Standing in the middle of the floor with the Gold Dome’s signature honeycomb ceiling overhead, Kendall Knaps wiped away tears as her father, Randy Knaps, kissed her on the cheek. With a bouquet of flowers in her hand, she listened to the announcer list off her accomplishments followed by all her favorite memories as a collegiate athlete. This was the end of Knaps’ final hurrah in the place she now called home. Knaps, affectionately known to her teammates as K2, was limited to the bars exhibition spot on her senior day due to a prolonged recovery from a back injury sustained last season. As she landed her blind full double tuck, she let her legs absorb the landing, accepting her weight. She held still, taking in the moment as she saluted one last time. One final stick in the dome.
This was a full circle moment. Just 30 minutes earlier, Knaps performed a national anthem duet, just as she had done in her Centenary home debut as a freshman. When Knaps arrived on campus in August 2018, she never would’ve dreamed of singing in front of a crowd, let alone singing the anthem in nearly every home competition.
When we think of the evolution of the college gymnast, the first thing that comes to mind is learning new skills or maybe developing consistency and confidence. However, college is not just a place to develop athletically or even academically. It’s a place where young people learn to express themselves freely, to grow into the adult they will eventually fully become. For Knaps, going through the college experience meant stepping outside of her comfort zone. In a sport where the predominating majors are science- and health-focused, Knaps took a different route. She has turned communication and the arts from a passion into a potential future career.
The arts are in Kendall’s blood. Ever since she was a girl, her father has been a singer, commonly featured in on-screen and radio commercials. For the most part, Kendall kept her voice within the confines of her garage. That was until coach Jackie Fain and teammate Cami Bea Austin convinced her to take the first step and sing the national anthem in front of a crowd. She agreed, but only if Austin would stand by her side. When asked what was going through her mind at that moment, Knaps said, “I was just hoping that I wouldn’t forget the words. It was more the pressure of making sure that it sounded good for everyone to hear.” On the bright side, the crowd was full of the small campus’ students and staff—people that quickly became family. So this was a “soft launch” of sorts. Later, she would sing in front of the entire conference and later still, send in an audition tape for American Idol. Although she did not make it to Hollywood, the experience increased her confidence all the more. “It showed me that I’m capable of doing anything that I set my mind to. If I want to do it, I can. I just have to be willing to take the step.”
Knaps’ artistic prowess does not stop at staying on key. She also is a recent recipient of Student Best of Show at the annual Addy Awards, hosted by the Advertising Federation of Shreveport Bossier. Her gold-winning work will move on to compete at the district level. What was the piece that topped her category? A mixture of four designs used to advertise Centenary gymnastics.
Kendall credits her love of graphic design to her digital media teacher in high school. Because of her, Kendall was already certified in Photoshop, Illustrator and Premier Pro before stepping foot onto Centenary’s campus. Once in Shreveport, the family-like atmosphere of the communication department further fostered her passion. Knaps even affectionately referred to one of the faculty as her “Comm mom,” as her impact on Kendall stretched far beyond the classroom.
If there’s one thing Kendall is constantly doing–building up her portfolio. In 2021, a summer full of baseball was in store, as Knaps was involved with the local minor league baseball organization, the Baton Rouge Rougarou. Sports merchandising, social media and logo design became her bread and butter. She learned to manage a nine-to-five job with the Rougarou while also training for her upcoming senior season and working on merchandise development for Parish County Line. Time management was a skill taken from college athletics that quickly transferred to work life. “I have a planner, and I literally put everything that I have to do for the week in it. That’s something that I got from my coach.” In her final semester, Knaps performs the same balancing act. Gym, internship and freelancing time are allocated while still maintaining the grades to graduate in May.
Although sports media is her first love, Knaps is a stickler for diversifying her portfolio. Her logo designs span from the Boy Scout troup’s 100-year anniversary patch to a local house flipping business, Bayou Flip. She even recently got the opportunity to assist with design development for the annual Flippin’ 5K that is to be held the morning of the national team final.
With every successful project comes another opportunity to do what she loves after college. Several job opportunities are already lined up, ripe for the choosing. Luckily for Knaps, any job in the arts is not a chore. She finds solace in creating something new. An eventual job with LSU athletics is the long term goal, but she assured, “if I get some crazy job opportunity that I just can’t pass up, I’ll take it and run with it.”
Throughout the last four years, Knaps has become a key contributor on three events, fought back from a potentially career-ending injury and learned a plethora of new skills. However, the most important lessons go far beyond the competition floor. She’s learned that ASMR is the best stress relief, that she’s ready for whatever life throws her way and that there’s only to gain when stepping outside of her comfort zone to try something new. College athletics is not as much about the actual sport as it is about the development of athletes into adults who will take the “real world” by storm. Ready or not, here Knaps comes.
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Article by Tavia Smith
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