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There’s Flip Side to Teen-Age Gymnastics

Times Staff Writer

Last year, singer Cyndi Lauper got to the top of the pop charts with a song, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

One can assume that such a sweeping generalization was not meant to be taken seriously. Unless of course, Lauper’s message was meant to be more specific, referring, perhaps, to the Marlborough High School gymnastics’ team, 17 young women who have put in long hours in the pursuit of excellence, but who didn’t forget to have fun along the way.

Marlborough, a private school for girls on Rossmore Avenue, is not a household word in high school athletics. Indeed, the school’s previous claim to fame was a Southern Section volleyball title in 1982.

The stately buildings, which accommodate nearly 500 students, look like picture postcards of Tara or Mount Vernon. It’s all very posh, reflecting unspoken affluence.

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But this is not strictly a bunch of swells, merely biding their time before joining the Jaguar Drivers of America. Many students receive financial aid and the academic standards are rigorous, as well as extremely competitive.

So how did these highbrows acquire a No. 1 ranking in the Southern Section’s 3-A division and become the favorite to win the team title tonight at 7 at Kellogg Gymnasium on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona?

“Since I’ve been here we’ve been progressing gradually,” said Coach Julie McCarthy, who is in her fifth season. “Eight or 10 years ago, they had some individuals who went to CIF, but last year was the first year we qualified for the team finals and took fourth.”

Lakewood won the team title, but Marlborough’s strong finish was encouraging for McCarthy, since her six-girl lineup included only two seniors. In addition, she knew that Robin Baker, now a junior, was planning to come out for the team.

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“Robin has definitely made a difference for us,” McCarthy said. “We’ve been in three invitationals this year and Robin has won the all-around title in all three. She’s probably the No. 1 girl in CIF. That’s 4-A and 3-A. She was in a club program for a long time, trying to qualify to be an elite gymnast. So her skills are very well developed.

“Plus our ninth graders are very strong. We’ve got a top gymnast plus a lot of quality depth.”

Club programs produce the stars such as Mary Lou Retton and Julianne McNamara, but for every gold medalist, there are hundreds with high hopes who fall by the wayside, derailed by lack of talent, burnout, fear or simply a desire to lead a more normal life.

On the other hand, high school gymnastics provides competition, but the intensity is a notch lower. Friendship has a higher place in the order of things, and giggles and good times are definitely a notch higher.

“The majority of the type of gymnasts that are going out for the Olympics are in clubs,” McCarthy said. “And more and more I think you see kids wanting to compete for the high school because the club is so intense. Practicing four, five or six hours a day, every single day. There is constant pressure to learn more, to learn more dangerous tricks, and it goes on and on.

“Here, of course, they want to improve and do well, but there isn’t that incredible intensity. So, the caliber of gymnast isn’t as great, but the enjoyment for the kids is a lot more.”

Baker, who grew up with U.S. Olympians Michelle Dusserre and Pam Bileck and was a member of Fritz Reiter’s Gymnastics Olympica club, agrees wholeheartedly with McCarthy.

“The stress of competition was very difficult for me,” said Baker, who along with teammate Elna Hubbell will also participate in the individual competition Saturday. “But it’s so funny, ‘cause I’m doing so much better in the high school situation. I’ve never made so many routines on the (balance) beam, just nailed them without falling. I don’t know what it is. Maybe because I’m relaxed and enjoying it here.

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“Before, I’d done it since I was six and it was routine. It was work rather than play. Now, I’m really having fun.”

Hubbell, co-captain with Jessica Fourti, also came from a club program. She always liked gymnastics, but the club regimen became a grind for her.

Hubbell, if freshman Genny Castruccio is to be believed, is making up for lost time and is now regarded as the team’s resident flake.

“She’s not crazy or anything,” Castruccio said. “She’s just funny. It’s her personality. Everyone likes her and she gets us to relax.”

Hubbell believes her spontaneity has been acquired rather than learned.

“In this type of competition it’s not just one person,” Hubbell said. “Everyone is for the team.

“I used to be afraid to compete. Now, I don’t get on the beam and get nervous. I’m at home on the beam.

“The atmosphere is just so much more fun and it’s laid back in that everyone has more fun. Here the spirit is great. Everybody cheers for each other. Everybody works together. It’s for the team. That’s what makes it fun.”

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Baker said her enjoyment goes a step further.

“I’ve been going here since the seventh grade, but I really didn’t know any of these girls that well,” said Baker, who will be competing despite a sprained toe, injured last Thursday in qualifying at Brea-Olinda. “But I’ve made so many friends. This is really neat, the unity that develops when you work together for something that’s important.

“Like (Thursday), when were going to the meet, we all went out to lunch beforehand and it was so much fun. You almost forgot we were in gymnastics and I guess I never thought that could happen in school.”

Fourti, a senior, believes that the long hours will pay off.

“It’s really exciting because most of the time people have never heard of us,’ Fourti said. “Especially because the gymnastics team has never been a real strong team. I’ve been on the team for four years and every year we’ve gotten better. We’ve come a long way this year, too. We knew from the beginning that if we worked hard, we could win CIF.

“It’s not one person, everyone has to do their best. Five scores count, so everyone has to work.”


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