High-school gymnastics finds a home

March 28, 1994|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer

Old Mill's Holly Firebaugh is back. So are Broadneck's Dawn McAteer, Chesapeake's Kim Johnson and Mandy Hart, and Arundel's Karen Newhard and Michelle Gagnier.

You want quality gymnasts? Anne Arundel County has cornered the market.

But the athletes themselves can't take all of the credit, no matter how gifted they are. There just isn't much competition out there, making them the big fish in a drying pond.

Besides Anne Arundel, the only county that still offers the sport in the metro area is Harford, and it has one school participating. North Harford will compete against Anne Arundel's teams next month.

This means the season will end with Anne Arundel County tournaments -- the girls at Chesapeake, the boys at Arundel. No regionals, no states.

And like last year, just six schools in the county are fielding teams: Annapolis, Arundel, Broadneck, Chesapeake, Old Mill and Severna Park.

"It's very unfortunate that more people don't have a more thorough knowledge of how gymnastics contributes to overall athletic safety, and the value of using the body more efficiently," said Broadneck coach Judy Svec. "There's a fear factor we've been fighting for years. I feel badly about it."

Last year, the Arundel girls won both the county and state/regional meets. They set a school record for points (130.15) in the county event while placing ahead of runner-up Old Mill and dethroning defending-champion Severna Park.

Debbie Chute completed her fourth year on the varsity, but coach Carol Nutt still has sophomores Newhard and Gagnier.

Newhard -- voted the Baltimore Sun's Female Gymnast of the Year for Anne Arundel County -- placed second in the all-around in both the county and state/regional meets. Gagnier was seventh at the county meet and 16th at the state/regional competition.

No seniors can be found on the girls side this year. The oldest competitors are juniors Erin Kupstas, Megan Glaze, Linda Tate, Julie Scott and April Anderson. Tate, whose specialty is the balance beam, missed last season with a knee injury.

"Losing Debbie hurts us. She was an all-arounder and pretty solid," said Nutt, whose girls defeated Chesapeake and Broadneck in last Wednesday's season-opening tri-meet. "But I expect by the time we get to the end, we'll hopefully be back to where we were team score-wise."

On the boys' side, "we're very thin," Nutt said, "but we'll probably be OK."

Freshman James Mlynarski is a nice addition. He won five events and took first in all-around last Wednesday.

Sophomore Andre Garland, juniors Vince Fauntleroy, Matt Lipphard and Byron Patrick, and senior Michael Perry also compete.

At Severna Park, the return of senior Jesse Whyte was supposed make the Falcons the team to beat on the boys' side.

A two-time selection as the Baltimore Sun's Male Gymnast of the Year for Anne Arundel County, Whyte was the all-around champion at the county/regional meet, won by Severna Park.

But Whyte injured his thumb during a recent practice, and though he took part in last Wednesday's tri-meet with Old Mill and Annapolis -- competing in every event except the high bar -- coach Bonnie Habicht said he most likely would have surgery to repair a damaged ligament and would miss the rest of the season.

Another senior all-arounder, Ben Jones, is out with a hand injury, and Habicht said, "If Ben doesn't come back, we won't be such a threat anymore."

Other members of the boys team are seniors Jason Erwin, Mike Henry, Jon Henry and Chris DeBeer, sophomores Grayson Jones and Mike Wright and freshmen Jacob Hildebrand and Ray Perry.

On the girls' squad, Habicht will call on seniors Jen Conner and Tara Bogel, juniors Michelle Force, Erin Hoisington, Sonia Rippert and Kellie Saperstein, sophomores Casey Moore, Jenny Tipton, Michele Bine, Amy Baikauskas, Tracy Delp and Kim Roesch, and freshmen Laura Fischetti, Beth Murphy, Alison Jernigan, Mary Jacokes, Melissa Lawson and Erin Corkhill. Hoisington competed a freshman, but not as a sophomore.

"I think we'll be a little stronger than last year," Habicht said.

After two consecutive years of sweeping both the county and state/regional championships, the Annapolis boys slipped to fourth in the county/regional competition last spring.

Can they regroup?

"We're all new," said coach Neill Russell. "I'm starting from scratch. It's one of those rebuilding things."

Senior Angela Cheatham, who placed fifth in the all-around at the county meet, didn't return to school, leaving Russell with sophomores Beth Zimmer and Erin Gottshalk. They both specialize in the balance beam, floor exercise and vault.

Together, they hope to make up for the loss of standout Karen Thompson, who graduated.

The boys' team doesn't offer any varsity experience, either. But senior Ole Jakebson, an exchange student from Norway, was drawing raves from Russell even before taking first in all-around last Wednesday.

"He's phenomenal," Russell said. "He's capable of being one of the top boys gymnasts this year."

Junior Ranard DeLeon, another all-around competitor, was named captain.

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