The Baton Rouge High boys gymnastics team will be seeking its sixth straight state championship, and 15th in 16 years, when the 35th LHSAA state gymnastics tournaments begin today.
The tournament is a two-day affair, with the boys competition Friday and the girls on Saturday. Both sessions will be hosted by Baton Rouge High in the Tommy McCoin gymnasium at their interim Lee High campus. Gymnasts from 30 schools are scheduled to compete.
Baton Rouge High coach Kevin Nee is concerned about the Bulldogs’ chances to keep their championship steak going.
“St. Paul’s (of Covington) has to be the heavy favorite. They could march right in here and take it away,” Nee said. “They have three boys that competed in the USA Gymnastics state meet and scored 68, 72 and 76, which is way beyond what our guys are doing.
“They came in here and beat us in our gym about a month ago. They had two (gymnasts) who came to state last year. Now they have a whole team behind them,” he said. “I look for Caddo (Magnet, of Shreveport) and us to battle it out for second.”
Four of the top six individual finishers in Division I last year return for this year’s competition.
St. Paul’s returning veterans are Brennan Skinner, who placed second in Division I all-around last year, and Evan McDonnel who was third.
Senior Neal Courter of Episcopal returns to defend his Division I all-around championship from 2011. Courter, who will compete in college for William and Mary, also won the all-around title in 2009, placed second in 2008 and third in 2007. He missed the 2010 tournament because of an injury.
Other former champions in the field are Grey Carruth of Runnels, the 2008 Division I champion, and Zarik Howe of Patrick Taylor, the Division II winner in 2009 and 2010.
Patrick Thang of Baton Rouge High finished sixth in 2011.
The boys action begins Friday with warm-ups at noon, followed by the competition at 1:30 p.m. with an awards ceremony to follow at about 3:30 p.m.
Nee expects a closer race for the girls title on Saturday with Caddo Magnet, St. Joseph’s Academy and Baton Rouge High the top contenders.
There will be 114 girls altogether with 26 in Division I, 32 in Division II and 51 in Division III.
Girls in Divisions II and III perform compulsory routines, while Division I gymnasts perform optional routines.
Five of the six individual winners from 2011 return for the girls tournament, led by LaKeitha Sims of Caddo Magnet, winner of the Division I all-around, who also took first place in the vault, the uneven bars and floor exercise.
Other girls expected to battle Sims are Cara Stricklin of Mandeville (third all-around in 2011), Leah Courter of Episcopal (fifth in 2011) and Kaitlin Young of SJA.
Girls Division III competition is Saturday morning with warm-ups at 8:30 a.m., competition at 10 a.m. and awards at 12:30 p.m.
Warm-ups for Divisions I and II begin at 1 p.m., followed by competition at 3 p.m. and awards at about 5 p.m.
This will be the last year for the competition at the Lee High site. Baton Rouge High will be moving back to its renovated campus on Government Street where the school will have a gymnasium specifically designed for gymnastics.
“The equipment will be permanent—no constant setting up and tearing down,” Nee said. “It will be nice for spectators. It’s supposed to seat about 200 with nice restrooms and concession space.”
Nee alluded to the fact that the gyms at Baton Rouge High and Lee High lacked air conditioning, with a result of some steamy state gymnastics tournaments over the years those venues.
“We’ll have new mats, good lighting, and it will have air conditioning,” he said emphatically.
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