Annapolis gymnastics coach Neill Russell doesn't mince words when discussing Panthers freshman Peter Lombard.
"He's the best gymnast ever to compete in Maryland," Russell says without hesitation.
"And he's moving to Florida this August. Maybe I can adopt him. I'll have to ask his mother."
Russell laughs at the very notion, though one gets the impression he'd do just about anything to keep Lombard from heading south.
Lombard, 15, went unbeaten in the all-around this spring, never scoring below 46 points and setting a state record with an 8.7 on the high bar.
His scoring and leadership led Annapolis to the county and state-regional championships and secured his selection as the Anne Arundel County Sun Boys Gymnast of the Year.
Russell was chosen Boys Gymnastics Coach of the Year after guidingthe young Panthers from last to first in the county and winning the state-regional title.
Russell, who coached seven years at Severna Park before taking over the Annapolis program in 1987, returns 13 gymnasts next
year. But he'll always remember the one that got away.
"He's dedicated to one sport -- gymnastics," Russell said. "You have kids who are talented athletes but are so diversified. But with Peter, everything centers around gymnastics. That's the key to anyone who wants to succeed in any sport. He takes it seriously."
It showed, especially at the state-regional meet May 13, when he won four events in claiming the all-around championship with 48.55 points.
"Itfelt great. I put a lot of work into it," Lombard said.
There were numerous other highlights, of course, like his first-
place 47.7 in all-around that allowed Annapolis to total a school-record 155.7points in the county meet the previous week.
Lombard scored an 8.9 on the floor that afternoon, but his best event this season was thepommel horse, where he went undefeated.
"Of all his expertise, the pommel horse is something he really excels on," Russell said. "He does the Thomas Flair better than (former Olympian) Kurt Thomas.
"It's probably the hardest event in sports. Your body moves in three directions at one time. It takes someone highly intelligent to do that."
Lombard, a 4.0 student and freshman class president, meets the criteria.
"Certain kids are born leaders, and I believe Peter is one of those," Russell said.
Even as the youngest member of his team.
"I always like to help my teammates out. I guess they see me as a role model," said Lombard, an unassuming figure at 5-foot-4 and 130pounds.
Lombard, who was born and raised in Guam, never let the pressure of high school competition get the better of him.
"I can pretty much relax before having to compete. That's the one thing I really have to do if I want to do well," he said.
Russell said, "Peter likes that pressure, wherever he is."
He'll soon be in Florida, much to Russell's chagrin. But the past season provided the veteran coach with great satisfaction.
"I'm getting burned out coaching, but this was absolutely the most fun I've had," said Russell, who led the Annapolis girls to the state-regional title in 1989.
"I've beencoaching since 1974, and I'm getting physically tired. But as long as the kids stay motivated, I'll continue to be motivated."
COUNTY GYMNASTICS MEET WINNERS
All-around:.. .. .. .. .. .. .. PeterLombard (Annapolis), 47.7
Vault:.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Jesse Whyte (Severna Park), 8.8
Rings: .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Peter Lombard (Annapolis), 8.1
Parallel bars: .. .. .. .. .. .. Peter Lombard (Annapolis), 7.6
Pommel horse: .. .. .. .. .. .. Peter Lombard (Annapolis), 7.5
Floor exercise: .. .. .. .. .. .. Peter Lombard(Annapolis), 8.9
High bar:.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Peter Lombard (Annapolis), 7.3
All-around: (tie) Caryn Sanders (Old Mill) and Mollie Bell (Meade), 36.55
Floor exercise:.. .. .. .. .. .. Caryn Sanders (Old Mill), 9.45
Balance beam:.. .. .. .. .. .. .. Mollie Bell (Meade), 9.20
Vault:.. .. (tie) Caryn Sanders (Old Mill) and Mollie Bell (Meade), 9.25
Uneven bars:.. .. .. .. .. .. .. Caryn Sanders (Old Mill), 9.05