Gymnast and coach Ashley Lawson a new inductee in Southeast's HOF

Southeast Missouri gymnastics coach Ashley Godwin Lawson was inducted Friday into the university's hall of fame.
Southeast Missouri State University

Ashley Godwin Lawson is in her second year as head coach of Redhawks gymnastics, but she is now in the Southeast Hall of Fame for her stellar performance as an undergraduate.

Lawson, 37, was inducted Friday and holds the school record in four of the sport’s five individual events: bars (9.925), beam (9.975), floor (10.000) and all around (39.550) – achieved during her 2001-2004 tenure at Southeast.

She is also one of just three gymnasts in school history to record a perfect 10 in an individual event.

Different era, different mascot

“When I was (a scholar-athlete), I was an Otahkian, not a Redhawk,” said Lawson, whose career preceded the university’s adoption of the current school moniker in 2005.

A native of Cape Coral, Florida, she chose Southeast over an offer from the University of Arizona.

“Tom Farden (former Southeast coach) recruited me,” said Lawson, “but my mom’s advice was decisive in choosing to come to Cape Girardeau.”

Choosing a smaller university

Lawson said her mother suggested that being “a big fish in a little pond” was preferable, citing the reduced classroom sizes at Southeast and the ability to know your instructors more personally.

“I was recruited for the floor and vault,” Lawson said, “but ended up doing them all – balance beam and bars too.”

Lawson credits her parents for their support of her passion.

“They lived in Florida but rarely missed a meet when I was in college,” Lawson recalled. “I can count on one hand the meets Mom and Dad didn’t attend.”

The Godwins, in support of their daughter’s gymnastics career, carefully took their vacation days to come north to see Ashley compete.

Praise for outstanding achievement

A May 13, 2004 Southeast Missourian article quoted Farden as saying, “The Otahkians (have) graduated one of the program’s best-ever gymnasts in Ashley Godwin (Lawson).”

Lawson was an NCAA Regional qualifier in the all-around each of her last three seasons at Southeast (2002-2004).

Lawson’s many honors include being named team MVP all four years and recognition as the university’s female athlete of the year in 2004.

“I started in gymnastics at age two,” said Lawson, “(so) I don’t know life without it.”

The path back to Southeast

After graduating from Southeast with a degree in exercise science in 2005, “I tried doing life without gymnastics and something was missing.”

In 2009-10, she returned to her alma mater as an assistant under Kristi Ewasko, during which she transformed Southeast’s weakest event – the balance beam – into its second-best event in just six months.

Lawson coached in club gyms in her native Florida and tried her hand in the classroom – teaching life science, anatomy and physiology in middle school and high school – an experience she found “exhausting.”

In 2012, Lawson assisted in the start-up of Lindenwood University’s gymnastics program, then returned with family to Florida.

Given an opportunity to return to Lindenwood after a long break from the sport, Lawson decided to jump back into the sport in which she had found so much personal success.

“My husband David and I prayed about it,” Lawson said, “and he sold his business and we moved to St. Charles.”

In 2018, she and Southeast athletic director Brady Barke connected and soon it was back to Cape as head gymnastics coach.

More support for gymnastics

Things are different for women’s gymnastics today than during Lawson’s undergrad years.

“(My athletes) are far more spoiled (now) because of the buy-in of the (Cape) community,” Lawson suggested, pointing to the 700 fans who showed up at Houck Field House Jan. 31 to see Southeast compete against Illinois State.

“It was a fun night,” Lawson recalled, telling of a banner she had made which spotlighted the mascots of each university – Redbird for Illinois State, Redhawk for Southeast.

“The banner read ‘the nest is not big enough for the both of us’.”

Southeast won that meet, 192.775-192.425, by taking the last event, the floor exercise – one in which Lawson excelled during her college days.

Family

Lawson, 37, has been married to David since 2007 and have two children: Chase, 11, and Bryce, 8.

David Lawson is current pitching coach for Cape Catfish baseball.

Other new Hall of Fame entrants

Other Southeast HOF inductees are: Beth Guccione Sims (soccer); Cindy Gannon (volleyball/SEMO administration); Jewell Crawford (basketball);

Gerald Jones (cross-country/track & field); the late Larry Yeargain (football); and the 1984 women’s cross-country team.

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