BY JOE GORDEN
Once every four years, the Olympic spotlight shines on sports that get little attention otherwise, and people who seldom give those lesser-known sports a thought otherwise suddenly and briefly become fans. Likewise, the Olympics arouses interest among would-be athletes.
Gymnastics is, perhaps, the best example of a sport that benefits from an influx of both fans and participants during Olympic years.
“It’s a real big motivator for our gym,” said Brenda Uzelac, owner and head coach of Uzelac Gymnastics in Richland. “The parents see all this and want their kids to be little Olympians. It helps the gymnastic community at this time.”
But Uzelac Gymnastics was experiencing a good run even before the Olympic glow kicked in a few weeks ago. Thirty-eight gymnasts from the Richland facility – the entire team – qualified for the state meet, and six combined to bring home eight titles.
Amanda McGee captured Level 9 vault, Nicole Coukart took Level 4 all-around and balance beam, Aleah Kehn captured Level 4 all-around and balance beam, Morgan Gossard won Level 5 vault, Keyli Smith took Level 4 uneven bar and Courtney Mihalko won Level 4 uneven bar.
“This is probably our best year ever,” Uzelac said. “We have six state champions. For everyone to make it this year, and to have that many all-around and individual champions ... it was our best year.”
It being an Olympic year, the team got to celebrate in a special way.
“We went to Olympic Trials in Philadelphia, and they got to watch the trials and get autographs,” Uzelac said. “We watched the men’s and women’s competition, and two of my girls – Amanda McGee and Casey McGee – got to be runners on the floor working the meet for them.”
But, the success of Uzelac Gymnastics goes beyond that strong showing at the state level. The business also has benefited by moving from the Industrial Park to the former Richland Area High School and creating a partnership with the East Hills Recreation Commission.
“It’s working out for the better,” Uzelac said. “In two years, East Hills Rec is going to put up a large, multi-purpose building, and we’ll be part of their plans.”
Uzelac said there are “a couple hundred” students working out now at the gym, ranging in age from 18 months to 18 years old.
“We have the knowledge to get them from the walking level to the Olympic level,” she said. “There’s not many coaches qualified to do that, but we’ve coached at that level and Kristal has competed at that level, so we offer that opportunity in our gym.”
Johnstown native Kristal Uzelac, Brenda’s daughter, is America’s only three-time national gymnastics champion. She was ranked third nationally and appeared headed for the 2000 Olympics before a change in the minimum age disqualified her. She was ranked No. 1 nationally in 2004, but a broken ankle just before the championships dashed her Olympic hopes. She received a concussion in 2005 after falling while training at Penn State, and later retired from competition, but now coaches and teaches gymnastics.
Results for Uzelac Gymnastic Team members in the state championships:
Champions: Amanda McGee, Level 9 vault; Nicole Coukart, Level 4 all-around, Level 4 balance beam; Aleah Kehn, Level 4 all-around, Level 4 balance beam; Morgan Gossard, Level 5 vault; Keyli Smith, Level 4 uneven bar; Courtney Mihalko, Level 4 uneven bar.
Level 9: Amanda McGee
Level 8: Casey Rose McGee, Brittany Dom
Level 7: Kaitlyn Kline, Kennedy Hanes, Eliya Dimond, Brittany Ruggeri
Level 6: Brianna Berkibile, Miranda Heinrich
Level 5: Erica Neuner, Abby Hanley, Morgan Gossard, Courtney Coppola, Essense Gunby
Level 4: Sierra Womer, Nicole Coukart, Aleah Kehn, Keyli Smith, Amber Botteicher, Sarah Polaeck, Elizabeth Hutsky, Allison Potts, Harleigh Hanes, Autumn Gossard, Autumn Schmidt
Level 3: Ali Pritt, Julia Taylor, Kristiana Cascino, Kara Dividock, Sydney Droz, Alaina Miller, Skyler Hostetler, Shelby Hostetler, Gretta George, Caroline Duppstadt
Novice op: Kara Himes, Nichole Cable, Kelly Vann
Coaches: Brenda Uzelac, Kristal Uzelac, Pilar Himes, Gina McGee, Kathy Vivian, Sherry Smith, Kelly Goncher
BY JOE GORDEN
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