For an instant last Saturday afternoon Kathy Ripley, 15, held several hundred spectators in Chantilly Secondary School gym in suspense as she performed on the balance beam. She flipped backwards in a complete circle and landed squarely on her feet ona four-inch wide wooden beam four feet off the ground.
Everyone breathed a sign of relief and a smattering of applause broke out.
The move that ripley, a freshman at Lake Braddock Secondary School, executed so well on the balance beam is called a back tuck, and it was just one of many flips, spring, spins and vaults performed at the Northern District Girl's High School Gymnastics Championship, which Lake Braddock won.
At Wakefield High School, Woodson High School won the Potamac District title: Langley captured the Great Falls DIstrict title, and Hayfield bosted and won the Gunston District championship, all on the same weekend. But it was in the Northern District, where Lake Braddock. Chantilly, West Springfield, Robinson, T. C. Williams and Washington-Lee compete that the talent level was so high one coach marvled, "If we had Woodson generally regarded, along with Lake Braddock, as the top team in the region here this would be just like a state meet."
Indeed, the state meet, to be held in Norfolk March 3 and 4, and the regional competition at Yorktown High School tomorrow and Saturday are not likely to have more tension and emotion than the Northern District meet.
"There's just so much pressure on these kids," said Debbie Naquin, Robinson Secondary School gymnastics coach. "Today, it seems like all the girls are joking. Of course, it is hard to look good against a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] like Lake Braddock."
Naquin saw the pressure at work on her own gymnastics. Dee Dove, the regional champion for Robinson [v. ORD ELLIGIBLE] finished her floor exercise performance, an [v. ORD ELLIGIBLE] of gymnastic and dance moves set to music. Then she stood at Naquin's side with her face in her hands.
"It was just the worst routine I've ever done," Dove, a junior, said, tears welling in her eyes.
"It wasn't bad," Naquin said quietly. "But if you're going to cry, go inside (into the locker room)."
Minutes later Dove said to her coach, "Did you see my score? I got an 8.35. I don't believe it."
"And you were crying," Naquin said.
"No I wasn't," Dove said with a small, relaxed smile.
Despite Lake Braddock's reputation and talent Lake Braddock coach Ann Ripley (Kathy's mother) was nervous late in the meet because of the fine showing by opposing gymnastics.
"I'm enjoying the gymnastics, they've been great," Ripley said. "But as far as our chances go, I can't breathe. It's that close. Chantilly has been oustanding."
A major reason for Chantilly's strong showing was the performance of Kareen Taylor, who captured individual all-round honors with 69.65 points. Taylor captured first place in tow events - the balance beam and the uneven bars.
Taylor's performance on the uneven bars was a blend of smoothness strength and timing. While Taylor swung from one bar to another, her hands instinctively tightening and releasing, Naquin analyzed her performance:
"She's super-tight in her movement. She's smooth, not flashy. No bent arms or legs. That's all-important. That's what's making it a strong performance."
Taylor scored nine of a possible 10 points. Not all performers were as successful as Taylor. One of her teammates, also a highly regarded gymnast, dropped off the bars twice rn route to a performance below five points.
Competitiors on the bars exhibit admirable body control. In floor exercise they combined gymnastics and dance skills, and on the vault they show cordination and balance. But on the balance beam it takes fearlessness mixed with gymnastics skills for a successful performance.
Lake Braddock's Mary Anne Hooker stood with a camera around her neck, snapping pictures of teammate Liza Ferguson as she went through her balance beam routine. Another teammate and beam performer, Michelle Driscoll, walked up to Hooker and said, "Please don't take any pictures of me while I'm on the beam."
Hooker agreed and explained as Doriscoll warmed up. "When you're on a piece of equipment you can hear everything. It disturbs Michelle to hear the camera click."
The penalty for a momentary lapse in concentration can be painful. Several performers have raw, red burns on their thighs - signs of the failures they've endured to experience sucess.
"Fear is definetely a factor to overcome," Ann Ripley said of performing on the beam. She explained how her daughter and the others learned their difficult moves:
"You start with the basic move on the mat. The you put a line on the mat and they do the move and try to land on the line. Next, you take the mat away and then you have them try it on a low beam with mats stacked up high on the sides. But those are crutches and you have to take them away quickly."
From there, confidence takes over, but every beam competitor knows there's always a change of missing. And the only thing to do then is to climb back up and continue the routine.
Kathy Ripley did not falter, but the three other Lake Braddock beam competitors fell at least once. They showed their composure by continuing their performances and receiving respectable scores.
"Some of these girls are so good, they even look good falling," said one coach.
Ann Ripley obviously agreed, as she hugged her district championship team and said warmly, "I'm so proud of all of you."