It could be said L.D. Bell has set the bar concerning high school gymnastics around the state.
Since 1967, the Lady Raiders have won 19 state championships and 43 individual titles. The boys have brought home 17 state championship trophies and 77 individual titles.
With the Region IV meet being right in their own neighborhood Tuesday and Wednesday at Trinity, both Bell squads, along with Trinity (which has a solid gymnastics history in its own right), have their sights set on a trip to to the Texas High School Gymnastics Coaches Association State Meet May 1-2 at Saginaw Chisholm Trail High School. The top three teams advance to state, along with the top 10 individuals in each event and the top in all around.
“The team knows the tradition, and they are working hard to live up to it,” said Bell boys coach Sean Sims. “In the history of the Bell team, 48 years, there has only been one team that didn’t go to state as a team. They don’t want to be the second.”
“Tradition is always a factor. Just knowing that it can be done,” said Bell girls coach Debbie Williams. “The biggest factor is the kids I have and their desire to be successful and their willingness to work hard and commit.”
Both Bell teams advanced to regionals by winning district, with Trinity second.
Among the standouts for Bell’s girls are defending state bars champion Jordan Gray, a senior, and 2013 state floor runner-up Victoria Rapp, also a senior. Gray was first in district on the bars and all-around. Rapp was first on the floor, and junior Alexis Martin was first on the beam, tied for second on the floor, and was second in the all-around.
Senior Cameron Gardner, who placed in the top 10 at state last year on rings and vault, highlights the returning Bell boys. He captured all-around at district, along with winning rings and taking third in vault.
In fact, Bell and Trinity teams were so dominant at district that a competitor from one squad or the other took first in every event except girls vault. Donovan Yancy of Trinity won high bar and boys vault, while Jason Scott of Trinity won parallel bars and was second on rings, pommel horse and all-around. Mikko Macapagel of Bell won pommel horse.
The Trinity girls had no gold medal winners at district, but Taylor Payne did tie for second in floor competition.
The Bell girls won district by 10 points over Trinity. The Trinity boys won by 16 points over Bell. In both cases, third place was much farther back.
Regionals, however, should prove more difficult, the coaches agree. Along with their teams will be other tough squads like Grapevine, Colleyville Heritage and Saginaw.
“How tough is the region? The toughest in the state,” Sims said. “To qualify from regionals to state as a team, you have to place top three and make a qualifying score. We have five teams that will make the score. No other region has that many.
“Saginaw is the favorite, they’ve been a top-three team at state the past four years, including back-to-back titles (2012-2013 boys). After that, it’s going to be a battle … and anything is possible.”
Trinity girls coach Rebecca Shaw added, “We have one of the strongest regions in the state; it will be a tough and close competition. I have a young team that is very qualified to put up a great competition. We have struggled with quite a few injuries in the past few months, so, they are going to have to overcome their weaknesses to rise to the occasion. They are very strong in compulsories, but just lack the experience in the optional competition.
“Having the regional meet at our own school will feed their excitement and adrenaline. We don’t draw quite the same crowd as the other sports at our school, so we are very excited for our school to see how talented our gymnasts are. The extra adrenaline can either hurt or help, you never know until the step onto the equipment ... I’m hoping for the second option.”
While Trinity’s tradition isn’t as strong as Bell’s over the years, the program has built quite a reputation. The Trinity boys have two state championships and 29 individual winners, while the girls have won three individual championships and seek their first team crown.
Trinity’s most recent individual champions were Mikea Knox in the vault in 2012 and 2013, and Kevin Cochran in the vault in 2012. Gray ended a five-year drought for the Bell girls (Brittney Herman, beam, 2008), and the Bell boys are hoping for their first state title since Elijah Holt won floor, parallel bars and all-around in 2010.
“Our gymnasts compete with our history all the time,” Shaw said. She and boys coach Travis Coulbourn set goals for their athletes, many of them being to surpass a past gymnast’s or team’s accomplishments.
“We had a great leader that made Trinity gymnastics a legacy,” she said. “His name was Mark Williams. Travis and I do our best to follow what he taught us and to keep Trinity gymnastics a strong program.”
Williams was married to former Bell girls coach Debbie Williams and died in 2009.