Trying to stay on the beam Lack of opponents threatens N. Harford gymnastics program

June 27, 1993|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Staff Writer

For the past few years, North Harford High's gymnastics team has been among an elite few in Maryland.

Now, however, those numbers have dwindled enough to threaten the continuation of the Hawks program -- maybe not for the spring of 1994 but certainly in the near future.

Harford County's only high school gymnastics team for the past five years, the Hawks girls competed this spring in the Howard County league. But a few weeks ago, in one of several moves to tighten their budget, Howard County officials decided to drop the gymnastics program immediately.

The Howard County decision leaves North Harford and six Anne Arundel County schools with the only varsity teams in Maryland. It is an MPSSAA championship sport. Montgomery County offers the sport but only on a club level.

North Harford coach Lin James said she hopes to keep Hawks gymnastics alive at least for one more year, although she said the future looks bleak.

"We'll try [to continue the program] for the sake of the kids," said James, who also coaches basketball and field hockey. "This just puts us in real jeopardy as far as proximity for competition. We'll have to make the choice of whether we want to go into [Anne Arundel County] or if they will take us."

For the gymnasts, especially a veteran like Jackie Bauer, the thought of losing the team is almost unbearable.

"I think that's really sad," said Bauer. "Recently I broke my foot and my parents keep telling me they want me to quit. It's frustrating, but once you have the love for the sport, you can't quit. I think there's no other sport quite like it."

James especially wants to hold out another year because most of the 1993 team should return next spring, including three-year veterans Bauer and Jessica Boram. Only one of 14 gymnasts graduated.

The Hawks gymnasts face obstacles that other county teams don't. They never get as much publicity as other spring teams, and this spring they had to go on the road for all of their meets. Still, Bauer said they don't mind.

"Sometimes it's like we're the invisible sport," said Bauer. "Nobody knows we're out there, but it doesn't really matter as long as we get to compete. We just love the sport."

The number of gymnastics teams has dwindled over the years mostly for two reasons, said James -- the expense and the difficulty of finding qualified coaches.

"It's not the sort of sport 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."

To James, however, there was a good reason to keep the Hawks program going while the other county teams disappeared.

"I just thought it was important to give those kids a competitive interest also," said James. "That's 14 kids, and that's more than I carry on a basketball team. And most of those kids can't be served by any other sport. It gives them a chance to participate in a sport that's a little bit unique."

However, James may not be able to hold out much longer.

The fate of Hawks gymnastics may be tied to the fate of Anne Arundel County's program. If Anne Arundel were to drop its program, the Hawks would be the only team left, making it virtually impossible to continue.

Although Richard Wiles, coordinator of physical education and athletics for Anne Arundel County, doesn't expect any change for the next school year, he said that could change.

"Right now we're planning to continue the program," said Wiles, adding that North Harford would be welcome in the Anne Arundel league.

"We hate to see any type of athletic experience being taken away from the student-athletes, but it gets difficult when yours is the only program there -- especially under difficult fiscal circumstances."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.