Buford High School’s head gymnastics coach, Tyler Ann Smith, calls Marissa Ashton a force. 

The Class of 2023 graduate, who helped her team to a school record-breaking win at the 2023 GHSA Class 6A-7A State Championship, has been named the 2023 Gymnast of the Year in USA Today’s High School Sports Awards. 

“Marissa is a force! She may be tiny but she is mighty; her big gymnastics and big scores speaks for itself,” Smith said following the team’s 2023 championship win, the fifth in the program’s history. “When she enters a gym, the energy is palpable.”

Marissa Ashton competes on vault at the GHSA Class 6A-7A State Championship in April 2023 at the Buford Arena. Photo by Cecil Copeland for GHSA.

According to USA Today: “Why she won: Ashton put on a show in repeating as Georgia’s Class 6A/7A all-around state champion. Behind a perfect-10 floor routine and other top finishes on bars and beam, the senior posted an all-around score of 39.575. That effort also led Buford to a repeat team title, giving the program its fifth state title since 2014. Ashton, who will continue her career at San Jose State, was also named Gymnast of the Year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.” 

“This recognition feels amazing,” Ashton said. “While it is always awesome to win an individual award, my main goal is the success of the team. I was nominated for this award last year as well and just being nominated alone was a great accomplishment. I would like to thank all my coaches, teammates, and parents for their support as I would not have been able to do this without them.” 

Smith said one notable moment during Ashton’s high school career came her sophomore year when she finished second at an event. 

“She said never again — from that moment on she never lost a high school meet,” Smith said. “She taught my underclassmen how to be intrinsically motivated but not at the expense of her team.”

Going into the 2023 state championship, Buford’s gymnastics team held a school record of 113.9 points scored in state competition from the previous season. In the 2023 competition, held over three days in mid-April at the Buford Arena, Buford’s gymnasts would surpass that school record, compiling 114.825 total team points. 

Ashton will continue competing in gymnastics at San Jose State University in California. She plans to move into her dorm Aug. 15 and will begin practices with her new team then. Ashton plans to study business administration with a concentration in management/finance. 

“I am excited to learn in Silicon Valley,” she said. 

Ashton shares the following advice with fellow gymnasts: Don’t give up. 

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue doing high school gymnastics after my sophomore year, but I stayed with it,” she said. “My junior and senior seasons ended up being my most successful.”

For her former Buford teammates, Ashton said to “trust the process and have fun.

“After finishing second my sophomore year, I was more motivated and determined to not let that happen again,” she said. “I would also say use your mistakes as a learning experience and get better from them. It took what I did wrong and losing in order to achieve what I did my junior and senior seasons.” 

Ashton is the daughter of Eric and Caroline Ashton of Buford.

FEATURED PHOTO: Marissa Ashton, a 2023 graduate of Buford High School, poses for a photo in her college gymnastics uniform. She will compete for San Jose State University in California. Submitted photo. 

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Deanna Allen has served as editor of the North Gwinnett Voice since June 2021. Effective communication and creative design are her passions.

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