Only one team in Harford County can claim a county title even beforethe season begins.
North Harford's gymnastics team simply has no competition -- literally. The Hawks have the only high school gymnastics team in the county.
Of course, there is no official county championship. But being the only team in the county can be a mixed blessing. The Hawks relish the opportunity to compete, but they are so unique, they don't get much attention -- not even at their own school.
"It's disappointing,"said Shannon McCoy, a four-year member of the team. "They kind of pretend we're not there. We're never mentioned on the morning announcements when they give the scores. If I mention I'm on the gymnastics team, some people say, 'Oh, we have a gymnastics team?' "
Thanks to coach Lin James, North Harford has continued to compete even though it has been the only team in the county for the past three years.
Most of the other schools dropped their teams because coaches were hard -- or impossible -- to find, explained James. "It's not the sort ofsport that anyone who is alive and breathing can coach. There is a risk and liability to it more than some other sports. A lot of people didn't want to do it."
James added that the cost of equipment alsocan be prohibitive. A single piece of gym equipment can run as much as $5,000.
Most of North Harford's equipment is dated.
But James has kept the girls program alive, because there is plenty of interest. She was forced to drop the boys team a couple of years ago, because there wasn't enough interest. But this year's girls team numbers 17, including three four-year athletes, McCoy, Jennifer Whilden and April Bloom.
"If we continue to have that kind of interest, I think we should serve those students," said James, who also coaches the Hawks girls basketball team. "I think it was Jennifer who asked me, 'Youdon't like coaching gymnastics, do you?' I said I sure wouldn't do it if I didn't like it.
"It's a whole different coaching experience. It's very demanding. I could probably spend one whole practice withone kid doing one whole routine. We never seem to have enough time."
Still, the Hawks improved their total team score by more than 14 points between their first meet on April 11 and their second on Tuesday when they scored 94 points to finish second at a tri-meet with Mount Hebron and Oakland Mills. Host Mount Hebron won with 117.9 pointsand Oakland Mills was third with 85.6.
Whilden, a veteran of the Harford Gymnastics Center, took third place in the all-around with 30.3 (of a possible perfect 40 points). McCoy (25.5) was fourth and Bloom (19.9) was sixth.
Whilden led the Hawks with an 8.2 on the vault, an 8.0 on the floor exercise, a 7.4 on the balance beam and a 6.7 on the uneven bars. McCoy was close behind with a 7.5 on the floor, a7.4 on the vault and a 7.2 on the beam. Bloom scored a 7.1 on the vault and a 6.0 in floor exercises.
Right now, the Hawks lack a consistent fourth scorer to help them boost their team total up to 100 points. Toni Maggitti, a sophomore who has some club experience, will help, but she will miss a couple of meets due to a pinched nerve in her back.
Whilden, McCoy and Bloom were the top three North Harford scorers in every event at Mount Hebron except for the vault, where Cindy Hamer edged out Bloom.
Just a few improvements and they might reach 100. "We figured it out on the bus on the way home," said McCoy. "If each of us had gotten just a point higher in the all-around score and if everybody had stayed on the (balance) beam, we could have gotten 100. If you fall off the beam twice that's a whole point and everybody was falling off."
Although the Hawks don't have the depth of talent to knock off the better Howard and Anne Arundel county teams, they always seem to make tremendous progress. Teams like Oakland Mills and Mount Hebron draw most of their talent from private clubs, while all of the Hawks except Whilden started from scratch as freshmen.
"When April and I first started, Mrs. James had to sit down with us and explain what we had to do in meets and how many gymnastics elements we had to have in a certain routine. We didn't know any of that," said McCoy, who like most of the other gymnasts is also a cheerleader.
James takes those girls with no experience and turns them into decent high school gymnasts. She finds each girl's strengths and builds routines around them. McCoy, for example, had strong dance skills, so her floor exercise plays up her dance skills. Her only strongtumbling skill is a round-off back handspring, but she still scores consistently in the 7's.
Whilden, however, came in with many skills. In her freshman year, she was still with the Harford Gymnastics club. She began competing in gymnastics as a fourth-grader and had won a couple of state titles on the intermediate-optional level.