Mary Frances Bir wasn’t certain if the most important email of her life was even going to the right person, but she hit send anyway.
As a high school senior from Huntington Beach, Calif., she was struggling to get looks from Division I gymnastics programs. She only competed in the vault as a senior because of a back injury, and coaches were hesitant to sign a single-event athlete.
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Bir took a shot and drafted an email to Boise State co-head coach Neil Resnick. Included were a brief biography and a few clips of her vault routine.
One problem: She couldn’t find Resnick’s email address.
“I couldn’t find any contact information. I totally guessed his email,” Bir said. “I sent him a couple videos and said, ‘Call my coach if you’re interested.’ ”
Within hours of receiving the email, Resnick called Bir and offered her a walk-on spot.
More than four years have passed since that conversation. After countless hours together in the gym, Resnick recently had the opportunity to give Bir the best news of her life.
Shortly after the NCAA Regional Selection Show on March 20, where the Broncos were placed into this Saturday’s Lincoln (Neb.) Regional as a No. 2 seed with a chance to qualify for nationals for the first time in program history, Resnick and co-head coach Tina Bird addressed the team and held Bir back.
“I said, ‘Hey, Mary, just so you know, you’re not going to have to pay for your school next year,’’’ Resnick said. “‘We’re going to pay for it.’’’
More than a week after receiving the news, Bir still gets choked up.
“It’s indescribable,” she said. “I’m just so thankful and honored to be on this team. ... I’m not only excited to do it for myself but also for my parents. It means a lot to me to do it for my parents and just pay them back.”
Bir’s father, Robert, handed his daughter a copy of the movie Rudy when she hopped on a plane to college four years ago. The quintessential sports underdog story was a reminder for his daughter to follow her dreams, regardless of the odds.
This was her “Rudy Moment.”
“I had a tear in my eye because I had been thinking all along Mary deserves a scholarship,’’ Robert Bir said. “After a while, you start to wonder if it’s going to happen. My heart was in my throat.”
To fully understand the emotional reaction of the Bir family, one must understand their journey.
Bir joined the Boise State gymnastics team in 2014 after winning the Region I vault championship four times during her club career in Southern California. Despite her resume, Bir was told she would redshirt during her first year at Boise State.
After sitting out a season, Bir vaulted in five meets in 2015 and 11 in 2016, earning second-team All-Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference honors. She has consistently been Boise State’s top vaulter in 2017 and is tied for 40th in the nation with a Regional Qualifying Score of 9.855.
Despite her contributions, Bir remained a walk-on. Boise State gets 12 scholarships per year, and it’s difficult to justify giving one to a single-event athlete.
“I just wanted to prove to myself that I belonged on this team,” Bir said. “I wanted to prove to myself mainly that I could overcome those obstacles.”
Robert Bir estimates the family pays $15,000 per year in tuition at Boise State, and that’s without textbooks and fees. With her academic background (3.75 GPA currently), Bir could have attended a state school in California for cheaper, but without a chance to compete in gymnastics.
But Bir has the support of her family. Though she is graduating in May, Bir was always coming back for a fifth year of gymnastics, scholarship or not.
“We wanted to see her through with her dream,” Robert said. “We always told her, ‘Mary, when you’re done, we’re done. You tell us.’ ”
Bir was not ready to let go, despite the costs.
“I’m in love with the sport,” Bir said. “I could not imagine that one year going to waste.”
When Lianne Josbacher left the team for personal reasons in the season, a scholarship became available. After four years of pouring blood, sweat and tears into Boise State, it was time for the program to give back. Bir will add the floor routine to her workload in 2018.
“Mary just worked so hard,” Bird said. “The best day is when you can give a walk-on a scholarship.”
Bir is determined to keep working hard, always gracious for opportunities. That thankfulness caught Resnick’s eye early.
While he eyes talent, Resnick focuses on how recruits interact with their parents. He is a believer that doing the simple things like saying, ‘Thank you’ is a tell-tale sign about a person.
Bir passed that test with flying colors. That’s just who she is.
“She has her head on straight,” her father said. “She’s a quiet, emotional girl with a deep heart. That’s evident in how she treats us, and how I see her with her teammates. She really does appreciate everything.”
As Resnick explained, sometimes it’s nice to see “the good guy” win.
“The magic moments for you might not be the meets you won,” Resnick said. “I’ve been doing this a really long time. When a kid comes along like that … that’s what keeps the juices flowing for me, is to see that personal achievement and to sacrifice and learn those values we’re trying to teach.
“It’s honestly why I still coach. It is for those moments.”