Independent gymnasts still have success

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BEAVER, Pa. (AP) - No team, no problem.

On the high school gymnastics circuit, Western Beaver’s Makayla Gologram and Ambridge’s Alyssa Fernandez, Elise Bracci and Paige Lehn don’t let the absence of a team at their schools stand in their way. Instead, they compete as independents.

“I think it’s harder because we don’t get recognized as much since we don’t have a team,” Gologram said. “We just come (to the gym) and we work hard to do our part.”

While they are independents, the girls can compete during meets involving other high school teams.

“I’ve competed with Central Valley, South Side and Hopewell at almost all my meets except for two,” Gologram said. “They are great supporters to have.”

The gymnastics community is small. Only 10 WPIAL schools have full teams. But the gymnasts from all schools have a close bond.

Gymnastics is more of an independent sport because you get awards by yourself,” Fernandez said. “I usually compete when Central Valley and Hopewell have meets. I know everyone and we all cheer for each other, so it’s not like I am all by myself.”

The independent gymnasts try to make the most of their unique situations.

“I would like to have the opportunity to be on a team. But everywhere you go, there are nice people,” Bracci said. “It’s nice because you get to get highlighted by yourself and you don’t have to worry about your team. It would be nice to have a team in the future, though.”

Even though they don’t have full teams, independents can compete for WPIAL and state championships. In order to compete for a district championship, the WPIAL states independent gymnasts must demonstrate in four events they are capable of meeting the WPIAL standards.

In addition to performing at team meets, gymnasts may compete at independent events. Terri Gazda, who coaches Central Valley, Hopewell and South Side, hosted an independent meet Saturday at Monaca Turners to help nine gymnasts qualify for the WPIAL championship on Feb. 8.

“My independents are just as important to me as the other girls. They are the future of the sport. There will, hopefully, be full teams someday. They have every right to win an award like the team girls,” she said. “On this side of the state, we include our independent girls in the district meet. On the other side of the state, they are not included. They have their own separate thing, so they are treated like different entities. We really try to make sure our kids are included and they can go to the district meet and the state meet and represent their schools. I don’t think the girls on this side of state realize that.

“We do have some strong independents. Moon has a very strong team and they feed off each other. These kids feed off other independents because they are by themselves. My independents train together and they are supporting each other, but they wear different colors. That’s the only difference.”

In Pennsylvania high school gymnastics, athletes compete in divisions according to their skill levels. The levels escalate from Bronze to Silver to Gold to Diamond. One drawback for independents is that just one gymnast from each school per division may compete for a WPIAL title.

Normally, that’s not a problem. But a potential conflict exists for Fernandez, a junior Diamond competitor, and Bracci, a sophomore Gold competitor.

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