Youth gymnastics is getting tougher, but so are Carroll County's young gymnasts.
Youngsters from the privately owned Perna Gymnastics Club and the Westminster Recreation Council-sponsored Carroll Gymnastics Center have done well enough in meets to qualify for state and, in some cases, regional-level gymnastics championship competitions.
Liz Perna, who along with her husband, John, owns and operates the Perna facility north of Westminster, says youngsters must perform ever-tougher routines to excel in the sport.
"They're warming up with things they were winning championships with five years ago," said Perna.
"Level V (lowest level of competitive gymnastics on the 10-point girls scale), events are better than my high school routines were," said Perna.
Nevertheless, she added that increasing numbers of her club's youngsters are measuring up.
Some are surprising eventheir coaches.
At their recent state tournament, Perna's five Class III boy gymnasts -- Scott Clingan, Chris Forman, Eddie Calwell, Karl Mullinex and Kristopher Keefer -- all qualified for the regional competitions this weekend at Mount Hebron High in Howard County.
Foreman, in fact, took first all-around in the 10-12 age group with a 44.3, and Keefer was third in the same division with a 39.40. Keefer also earned the first Maryland Class III sportsmanship award.
In the process, the squad also finished first in the 12-team state field with the highest overall point score.
"(Co-coaches Kevin Fadely andMatt Bien) were very surprised to finish first," Perna said.
In their state tournament, Nick Willet and Jay Nixon -- who, at Class IV are on a lower experience level on the five-part boys scale -- also qualified for the regionals later this month.
Nixon placed fifth all-around in the Class IV 10-12 age group competition with a 38.9, while Willet was one place behind with a 38.8
Perna also expects goodresults in upcoming girls state tournaments.
Melissa Denhardt, a Level IX gymnast, already has qualified for mid-April's regional tourney, and Perna thinks her other girls can also do well.
She said her Level V and Level VI squads "should finish in the top three (in their state tourney). They could very well win the state."
Last summer, the Carroll Gymnastics Center was forced to move from Westminsterbecause its quarters were needed to serve displaced students from Sandymount Elementary School, which is being renovated.
The center is still recovering from a loss of that 80 percent of its members who didn't want to commute to the new facility at the old Hampstead Elementary on Main Street.
But membership now is back on the rise.
Additionally, three of its girls have qualified for upcoming state competitions.
These are Tammy Wilson in Level V and Hannah Murphy andJenny Cline at Level VI.
Wilson placed first in a field of 40 on the uneven bars and fourth overall at a recent qualifying meet.
Center Director Kathy Kinsler is optimistic about her club's fu
turein its new home, where she looks to stay "indefinitely."
"We're not holding our breath over what's happening one or two years down theroad. We'll make the best of what we have and aggressively build up our program," she said.