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Rams bounce back from edge to win WPIALs

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2003

Pine-Richland High School will have to clear room in its trophy case for a team that nearly didn't exist.

The Pine-Richland gymnastics team, which last spring had to petition the school board to form a first-year club team, won the WPIAL gymnastics title Saturday at Moon Area Middle School.

Pine-Richland edged Baldwin, 139.075-138.75, for championship at the eight-team meet.

"It's been a good experience," said freshman Jamie Brady, who highlighted the day by winning the balance beam in the Advanced (Gold) Division. "We really didn't know what to expect when we came in. But it was a lot of fun, and I was pretty surprised by how well we did."

Brady nailed an aerial roundoff to close out her balance beam routine and become the first Pine-Richland gymnast to win an Advanced Division gold medal. Brady scored a 9.4 in the event, holding off Fox Chapel freshman Rae Letterle, who was second with a 9.1, and Pine-Richland teammate Kim Langer, who was third with an 8.85.

Also in the Gold Division, freshman Katherine Behr placed third in the vault with a score of 8.25.

Freshman Rainy Meals won the all-around title in the Silver Division with a score of 34.0. She placed first in vault with a 9.05 and third in the balance beam with an 8.35.

Sophomore Amanda Randazza won the vault (8.9) and took third in the uneven bars (7.7) in the Bronze Division.

All told, eight gymnasts competed for Pine-Richland, including a meet-high six in the Gold Division.

Pine-Richland has 12 gymnasts on its roster, most of whom have participated in USGA competitions for X-Cel in Cranberry and Jewart's Gymnastics in Hampton.

The Rams, who hold practices and home meets at Jewart's, wore their school colors with pride. They went 14-1 in dual meets, losing only at Baldwin by one point. They won the regular-season title, sweeping defending WPIAL champion North Allegheny along the way.

"They did a really good job," Pine-Richland coach Ben Jewart said. "They kind of started out not sure how things were going to go. Once they joined together and realized they might be able to make something out of their team."

The team almost didn't happen.

Three of the gymnasts – Langer, Jen Steger, and Amanda Randazza — had competed as independents at the 2002 WPIAL finals, but after the meet Pine-Richland athletic director Clair Altemus wouldn't send any independent gymnasts to this year's WPIAL meet.

"They weren't going to let us compete as independents, so we asked the school board for a team," Randazza said.

The team impressed Altemus and the rest of the school activities committee with its presentation, given by Elaine Jewart, owner of Jewart's Gymnastics.

"They did an outstanding job," Altemus said.

The committee gave its recommendation to the school board, which voted to allow the formation of a club team.

Their budget is small. They get $50 per gymnast and up to $3,200 for transporation. The school also pays for one official for each home meet. The team will have to petition the school board again next year to regain club sport status.

"After this year, I don't really see a problem," said Stephanie Berh's mother, Jeanne.

Altemus said the girls will be honored at the winter sports assembly with the rest of the school's championship teams and individuals. He said the gymnasts should be proud of themselves.

"I knew they had a good team, but I didn't know they were a WPIAL championship team," Altemus said. "I think I was as pleasantly surprised as anybody."

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