Bees’ string of state gymnastics titles reaches 17

by Sheldon Ocker

Of course Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School won the Ohio prep gymnastics championship. Having won 17 in a row and 20 altogether, it’s almost inconceivable there could be another outcome.

“If we didn’t win, ESPN probably would come in and say, ‘Maria couldn’t follow in the tradition of her parents,’” first-year head coach Maria Schneider said wryly.

Schneider is the daughter of former head coach Joan Ganim. The Ganims are the First Family of gymnastics in Northeast Ohio. Joan and Maria’s late father, Ron, started a gymnastics training center, Gymnastics World, in 1975.

The Broadview Heights facility (there’s also one in Twinsburg) has become the mecca for kids who want to learn the difficult and strength-centric skills of performing on the balance beam and uneven bars and mastering the vault and floor exercise.

Through the years, almost all Bees competitors have matriculated at Gymnastics World, and almost all of them have competed for the Gymnastics World club team.

“This whole team came up from Gymnastics World,” Schneider said.

The Bees scored well in every event at this year’s state tournament the weekend of Feb. 28-29. Junior Katie Dembie tied for first in the floor exercise, finished second in the vault and sixth in all-around. Sophomore Lindsay Kern was second in the uneven bars; sophomore Erin Delahunty was second in floor exercise, sixth in the vault and fourth in all-around; and sophomore Jennie Bandsuh was 10th in the bars.

Senior Marina Hearns, junior Abby Williamson, sophomore Julia Salis and freshman Ella Shaheen competed for the Bees but didn’t place.

Underclassmen abound on the Bees’ roster, which hints at more success next year.

“We also have five freshmen coming in that I know of,” Schneider said. “But I don’t know what they’re going to be for us right now.”

Asked who might be the Bees’ top performer next year, Schneider said, “Katie has that potential. It’s a matter of keeping her healthy. That’s been something of an issue for her.”

Schneider is a full-time teacher at Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School. In addition to being head coach of the high school team, she takes her shifts at Gymnastics World, specializing in the mental aspects of competing.

“I’m the psycho-babble coach,” she said. “I kind of took that on when my dad passed away. The day before an event, I’m nervous and not sleeping. Coaching gymnastics is not like coaching basketball. Once they [competitors] get out there, they’re on their own. The mind part, the mental part is where you’re at in gymnastics coaching. What I can do is give them the reminder cues for their skills.”

What cue words?

“Let it flow, squeeze, one skill at a time, press,” said Schneider. “They are words to remind them what to do to keep it flowing.”

Inasmuch as Gymnastics World is the family business, Schneider has her own personal feeder system. Many, if not most, kids who are attracted to the sport begin before kindergarten, hanging on to their parents as they walk into Gymnastics World for the first time. “Some start with their parents when they’re crawling,” she said. “We do have a senior who didn’t take up gymnastics until seventh grade. But most girls who compete started when they were 3 or 4. We try to make sure they get the best of the sport, not just learn the skills, but get life lessons.”

Feature image photo caption: Sophomore Lindsay Kern (l) embraces coaches Leah Miko (center) and Maria Schneider at the gymnastics state championship, where Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School took home its 17th consecutive title.

Assistant coach Leah Miko, former head coach Joan Ganim and head coach Maria Schneider celebrate the Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School gymnastics team’s 17th consecutive state championship.
From l-r, Jenny Bandush, Katie Dembie, Abby Williamson, Erin Delahunty, Lindsay Kern and Marina Hearns participate in the floor exercise.
Lindsay Kern places second in uneven bars.