Mount Si Gymnastics Academy opens with competitive finishers
May 23, 2012
By Ilona Idlis
The Mount Si Gymnastics Academy is barely a month old. Most gyms would still be finding their footing. MSGA is not most gyms.
Last month, it sent 13 girls to compete in the United States Association of Gymnastics Washington State Meet — a once-a-year, multiweekend spectacular with hundreds of girls competing at multiple levels of difficulty.
Led by coach Penny Loan, MSGA’s gymnasts returned with fourth- to 12th-place ranks, finishing in the top 50 percent of their age group.
Though the gym is brand new, the MSGA’s competitive team — and its determination to succeed — has been around for a while. Getting to the state meet this year wasn’t easy.
The team’s former gym closed its doors and moved away a few months ago, leaving the girls displaced with no place to practice and competition season upon them. Children who’d practiced together for years and prepared their 2012 routines for months were suddenly on the precipice of disbanding.
“There was a sense of being wronged,” Loan recalled. “It was really hard on the girls.”
Loan and her assistant coach, Kelly Loranger, chose to stick with the team. With the help of “a lot of very loyal parents,” Loan and Loranger kept the practices going, but every new location proved a new challenge.
While other teams trained in fully equipped native gyms, these girls crowded into small rooms at Mount Si High School.
There wasn’t enough gymnastics equipment for everyone to practice with at the same time, so Loan staggered the activities — half the girls would compactly condition with dumbbells, while the others practiced their routines.
Then, the girls spent four weeks training at Metropolitan Gymnastics.
Though the team was happy to be hosted by a facility with all the necessary equipment, practices were limited by Metropolitan’s operating schedule. The girls could only work when regular classes weren’t in session. In that piecemeal fashion, the girls trained up to 15 hours a week in preparation.
When the former gym’s location went on the market, some of the girls’ parents saw an opportunity to give the team a home.
Pete and Kathy Caro and Gary and Amy Norton had never owned a gym before. But they had daughters on the team and knew how much gymnastics meant to the Snoqualmie community.
“We really wanted to fill the hole left in the Valley,” co-founder Kathy Caro explained. Her 10-year-old daughter, Megan, has loved gymnastics since she could walk. “I wanted to see a place for her to continue to grow and thrive.”
After a monthlong battle for the lease, the building was finally theirs and the Academy was born. Ecstatic, the team moved in before the furnishings did. It took more creative thinking to keep the practices going during yet another transition. Instead of just waiting for a regulation floor to arrive, co-founder Amy Norton bought strips of mats from Costco, splicing them together for makeshift padding.
The girls headed off to the state meet with only three weeks of continuous practice in their own gym. But after months of uncertainty, they were determined to finish strong.
According to Loan, the struggle to keep going eroded distractions and brought the team closer.
Eight MSGA gymnasts competed in the Level 4 meet April 21 and 22, performing a compulsory USAG routine on bars, beam, floor and vault alongside about 500 other girls. Ginger Judge, 7, won fourth place in her Bronze Tier grouping with a cumulative score of 35.025, receiving special distinction for her high marks on bars and beam.
Her teammates performed admirably with fifth-, eighth- and ninth-place showings.
Another five MSGA girls faced tougher moves and competition in the Level 5 and 6 meets the following weekend. Sammy Markley, 10, was the only Mount Si gymnast to qualify for Level 6 competition, the hardest compulsory routine in the USAG before freely choreographed moves are allowed. With a sixth-place finish and a Most Improved Bar Routine award, Markley didn’t disappoint.
Loan couldn’t be prouder of all the girls.
“In some ways, the move made us stronger,” she said. “We wanted to get through the adversity and just prove that we could do it. Nobody was gonna take us down.”
The Mount Si Gymnastics Academy officially opened to the public April 9. In addition to nurturing the competitive team, the academy offers recreational classes to boys and girls, toddlers to teenagers. Already 150 students strong, MSGA hopes to expand its enrollment and programming in the coming months.
A gymnastics summer camp is already in the works and the owners are looking to start a dance program in the fall.
“I would like any kid with an interest in participating in gymnastics to have the opportunity to come here,” Caro said. “I want this to be a come-to place for people looking for great activities for their kids.”
Ilona Idlis is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.