To those who don't know her, Courtland's Jayne Hodges may be the most unlikely person to coach the gymnastics team at the Spotsylvania school. She's never participated in gymnastics, or any sport, as her high school didn't have any girls teams.

Hodges enjoyed gymnastics on television though and when she had the opportunity to become assistant coach at Courtland, she jumped at the chance.

"The kids taught me everything. I learned from scratch," Hodges explained.

Despite her lack of experience and expertise in the sport, her record exemplifies her coaching ability. She became head coach in 1980 and since has won the last four district and regional titles and two state titles.

Building a successful program has involved creative strategies. The Cougars rarely work on specific tricks or moves. Instead, practice involves repetition of complete routines. Each gymnast will do her separate routines over and over, perfecting motions, while Hodges or a teammate stands by to offer advice.

"I don't teach new triks. I take what they've got and polish it," Hodges said. "We work on execution. That is our forte . . . we're known for it. They do full routines over and over again. That way competition is just like practice."

Although her plan restricts learning more advanced moves, Hodges explains that execution of moves is more valuable than their difficulty. In competition, difficulty is valued up to three points, whereas execution and amplitude (height of tumbling) account for up to four points.

In her first year, 1979, many of the gymnasts were beginners and had to learn the basics. That's when the Cougars' practices developed into the more repetitive form.

"When we first started we had a couple of private (club) gymnasts. The rest had to learn from scratch," Hodges said. "We were teaching them cartwheels and walkovers and we were losing (too many) points on execution."

As she steadily developed a squad filled with experienced gymnasts, Hodges continued the repetitive practices. "When we started getting more club gymnasts, they already knew the tricks. So we just worked on perfecting them," she said.

As the team picked up more experienced athletes, the program started building. In the 1983-84 season Johnna Duncan, last year's star gymnast who is a cheerleader at UVA this year, was freshman. She soon proved to be a standout in Region II and in Virginia AA competition. Heather Williamson and Cheri Schwam were also freshman that year and they paved the way to the Battlefield District, Region II and AA state team titles.

The talent kept pouring in after that year. Alison Peck and Cheryl Cole, currently the team's only two seniors, made their debut for Courtland in the 1984-85 season. As freshman they helped the Cougars to district and regional honors and the runnersup spot at the state tournament. The 1985-86 season, their last in AA competition, brought another state championship.

Despite facing stiffer competition in Virginia AAA last season, Courtland again proved its dominance. Jill Chapman, then a freshman, brought her powerful vaulting ability to the roster, which already included five strong gymnasts. After winning the Commonwealth District and Northwestern REgion titles, Hodges guided her team into a tough state tournament. But even against such Northern Region powerhouses as Lake Braddock and West Springfield, Courtland earned respect, finishing fourth with 104.55 points, less than four and a half points behind the Lake Braddock, West Springfield and Denbigh High School in Newport News.

"Courtland always has a good team with excellent (dancing ability)," said West Springfield Coach Gerry Royals. "They (the Cougars) are always a good competition . . . always very, very competitive."

This year's smaller squad may be more beneficial. "We almost had too much talent (last year). We had ten good gymnasts and some girls were sitting on the bench," Hodges explained. "That creates a lot of probleoblems with morale and competition time."

Hodges and her six-member squad again have the opportunity to face the top AAA teams. However it may be their last chance to go to the AAA state meet. Courtland will be split up next year as a new school, Chancellor Senior High School, is opened. Both schools will be in Class AA, designated for schools with a smaller enrollment, in the Battlefield District and Region II.

Courtland was undefeated until its fourth-place finish in the North-South Invitational at lake Braddock last weekend. That record includes an early season victory over North Stafford, the team champion in the Lake Braddock meet. The Cougars will face a tough Osbourn Park team tonight and 24 strong teams in the Park View Invitational Saturday.

With six strong gymnasts the Cougars have the depth to lead them into the state meet. Peck and Chapman are the all-around competitors. Peck has gone to the state meet as an individual competitor each of her four varsity seasons. Her smooth tumbling and graceful dancing in the floor exercise has given her her highest scores.

Chapman, in her second season with the varsity squad, is "a natural on the vault," says Hodges. Her proficiency in that event led her into the state meet as a freshman. While fancy tricks are not a priority to Hodges, Chapman routines, especially on the uneven bars and balance beam, are filled with unique and difficult moves.

Her mount in the bar routine involves a long run before cartwheeling onto the springboard and leaping over the low bar to the high bar. Although that always captures the crowds attention, as well as other tough tricks and twists, performance technicalities sometimes bring down her score. As a sophomore there are many more meets and practices for Chapman to work out the kinks in her routines.

Peck also adds some complexity to her floor exercise even though she prefers simple, clean routines. Her "helicopter," a handstand while in a perfect straddle position as she turns around and around, is unmatched by anyone in the state, according to Hodges. But Peck has perfected that move and rarely loses points on it.

The uneven bars event has always been Cole's favorite. As a freshman her team lacked strong performers on that apparatus. Her solid build and intensity in the event insures a dynamic exhibition.

Angie Sullivan competes on the floor, beam and vault and will be the only varsity gymnast returning to Courtland next year when the school divides. The slim, dark-haired junior emphasizes the importance of her team's balanced roster.

"We all have similar capabilities. We have six strong performers," she explained. "Even if someone is hurt there ia always someone to fall back on."

Sophomores Janel Hradecky and Nancy McLain are proof of that depth. Hradecky's vault and McLain's bars and beam routines have boosted team scores considerably. The pair, both veteran club performers like their teammates, are always learning the benefit of teamwork. "In high school you're competing for your school. In {club} you want to do good for yourself," Hradecky said.

Teamwork always reigns over individual performance on Hodges' team. That is what forms comraderie among good individual performers. "We all get along really well. There is no rivalry," said Peck. "Coach Hodges continuously stresses team. That is understood."

Building tradition is another thing Hodges works hard at. The optimistic, enthusastic coach is always thinking of ways to make her program appealing to younger gymnasts who may attend Courtland in the future. Inviting local club teams to watch and perform at home meets has proved exciting to the younger gymnasts while boosting the Cougars' morale.

"Once you start building a winning tradition, the image {your team} projects attracts younger gymnasts," said Hodges. "The little kids worship {the older gymnasts}. They say 'I can hardly wait until I get to Courtland.'"

The Northwestern regional was held at Courtland last year. The floor exercise was the final and decisive event for the Cougars. Duncan and Peck were the last two performers and were cheered by the younger girls as they lined up to watch them. That fired up Peck and Duncan who finished first and third respectively in the event to qualify for the state meet.

The high school team appealed to many of the Cougars because of the earlier influence it has on them. "When I was younger I went to {Courtland} meets," said Cole. "I thought it was neat to watch them and I wanted to be like them."

North Stafford has been mentioned over and over among Virginia AAA coaches and gymnasts this season. The Wolverines had lost to Courtland earlier in the season and had not yet faced the likes of West Springfield or Lake Braddock, but there was a rumor that they would be tough. A fourth-place finish in the Commonwealth District Meet last year did not put North Stafford on the list of 'teams to beat,' but with seven promising freshmen, including two well-known club gymnasts, and two top returners, coach Wendy Payne was promising her team would be tough.

The rumor turned out to be true and the top teams learned of the Wolverines strength first hand as the young squad won the team title with 107.55 points, and had three all-around competitors place in the 18-team meet at Lake Braddock last weekend. West Springfield followed in second, with defending state champion Lake Braddock in third. Commonwealth District rival Courtland was fourth.

The Wolverines' Mindy Berg proved to be a pleasant surprise in the all-around competition. The petite sophomore scored a career-high 36.35 points to better the field of 42 all-around performers, winning the balance beam and uneven bars, finishing third in the vault and sixth in the floor excercise.

"I never thought I would do this well. This is the best I've ever done," Berg said. "I just wanted to do my best."

Freshmen Teri Fleming and Tanya Deane were also very strong. Fleming, who was third in the all-around, scored a 9.05 on the floor for a third place finish and a sixth-place ribbon on the beam. Deane finished sixth in the all-around after winning the floor and finishing second behind Berg on the bars.