The history of the state
gymnastics tournament is perhaps the most unique of all
state athletic tournaments. A brief look at the current
tournament program shows that individual champions have
been crowned since 1973, with team champions being named
since 1977. It also shows that all of the champions
have been girls, i.e., that this sport is one of those
in which only the girls participate, at least in Ohio.
But did you know the rest of the story?
The full story of Ohio’s
high school gymnastic championships actually dates back
much further than 1973, almost half a century to be
exact. The first state gymnastics tournament was held
in 1926 in Delaware, Ohio. Only five schools
participated in that tournament: Columbus North, East
and Central high schools, Cleveland West and Cincinnati
Walnut Hills. These schools participated in six
different events: high bar, Indian clubs, side horse,
flying rings, tumbling and parallel bars. Columbus
North High School took the first championship, with
Columbus East a close second.
Between 1926 and 1932 the
Columbus area schools would dominate the sport, with
North High School capturing three state titles, and
Central and East high schools taking two each. These
schools also dominated the runner-up spot, until
Cleveland’s East Tech finished second in 1932. From
then on, until the last gymnastics tournament was held
in 1937, East Tech was the dominant school in this
sport, winning the last five championships. (Those five
titles helped East Tech to claim the unofficial title of
“Champion of Champions” for the first 50 years of the
OHSAA. The Scarabs by 1957 had won a total of 19 state
championships in all sports, one more than Lakewood High
and its 18 titles.)
There were never more than
13 schools in this competition, the vast majority being
from either the Columbus or Cleveland areas, with a low
of only four participating schools in 1933. No doubt
the fact that the nation was in the middle of the Great
Depression contributed to the small number of
participating schools, and probably to the tournament’s
eventual termination as well.
One other fact is
significant about this tournament – all of the
participants were boys. No girls participated in
interscholastic gymnastics, girls interscholastic
athletic competition being pretty much limited to
basketball in those days.
The first great star of
this early era was Curtis Harmon of Columbus Central
High School. In 1928 Harmon finished second on the high
bar, but it was in both 1929 and 1930 that he really
made his mark in leading Central High to its only two
state gymnastics titles. In both years Harmon was a
triple winner at the state tournament, each time taking
top honors on the high bar, the flying rings and the
parallel bar. Had there been an all-around champion in
those days, no doubt Harmon would have won that as
Perhaps the best coach at
this time was East Tech’s G. P. Thompson. Mr. Thompson
led the Scarab gymnasts from at least 1932 to 1937,
except for 1935, coaching Tech to four of is five state
championships and a runner-up finish. Two of his
gymnasts became multi-event state champions and went on
to great careers in the world of gymnastics.
The first of these boys
was Joe Giallombardo. Joe was the first person to win
the same event at the state tournament three consecutive
years. In 1933-34-35 he took first place in tumbling.
Giallombardo also took a first in the long horse in
1934, and placed second in both the long horse and the
parallel bars in 1935.
Following his outstanding
high school career, Joe went to the University of
Illinois, where he had one of the all-time great
gymnastics careers in NCAA history. From 1938-1940 he
won seven individual titles, a record that still stands
(tied once since), and won the first three NCAA
all-around championships those same years. Giallombardo
went on to have a fine career as a high school
gymnastics coach in Illinois after World War II. He is
enshrined in several Halls of Fame, and in 1966 was the
recipient of the Helms Hall of Fame Award, the ultimate
award in the world of gymnastics.
The second of coach
Thompson’s great athletes at East Tech was Paul Fina.
Fina was a three-time state champion on the flying
rings, 1935-37, and a two-time champion on the
horizontal bar, 1936-37. Paul Fina, like Joe
Giallombardo, went to the University of Illinois, where
he was the 1940 NCAA all-around champion, a title that
he shared that year with his fellow East Tech alumnus.
Also like Giallombardo, Fina’s gymnastics career was
interrupted by World War II, which prevented him from
further demonstrating his outstanding abilities at both
the college and world, i.e., Olympic, level.
Fast forward to 1973 and
the present format for the state gymnastics tournament.
Gone are the boys, replaced by the young ladies. In the
earliest championships the girls vied for titles in nine
individual events, but after just two years that was
reduced to the present total of five: all-around, uneven
parallel bars, floor exercise, vault and balance beam.
With the renewal of the
gymnastics competition at the state level no team
champion was named until 1977 (with all participating
schools competing together as one classification). Had
the organizers of the tournament known how competitive
these team championships would be, they would have held
them from the get-go in 1973. Talk about excitement,
there is not much that can compare to the count down to
the naming of girls team gymnastic champion. Seven of
these titles have been decided by a point or less, and
none has been decided by more than 9.05 points. From
2000 to 2002 the TOTAL difference, for all three
years combined, separating first place from second was 0.9,
nine-tenths of a point.
Had there been a team
champion named from the beginning of the tournament, the
first three championships most likely would have been
won by Lakewood High School. And the biggest reason for
this would have been a girl named Lori Haas. There have
been many great gymnasts in Ohio over the years, and the
first of these was Lakewood’s Lori Haas. Ms. Haas
dominated the state tournament from 1973 to 1975 like
few, if any, have done since. In all three years she
won the competition on the uneven parallel bars and the
vault, and in 1973 she also won the balanced beam
competition. All of this combined to give her the
all-around championship in 1973-74-75. Her total of 10
individual championships is second all-time in the
When the team
championships were awarded beginning in 1977, the titles
over the first few years were spread around fairly
well. In the first nine years, seven different schools
won the team competition. During those years,
1977-1985, Dublin High School had the most success,
winning the team competition three times, and finishing
as the runner-up three other times.
Beginning in 1985 we have
the first school to truly dominate the gymnastics
tournament. Thomas Worthington High School won the team
title that year, as well as the next four, giving the
school a state record five consecutive gymnastics
championships. Leading the Cardinals to those state
titles were Melissa Harmon, who won five individual
titles in 1988 and 1989, and Natalie Lang, who won three
consecutive balance beam championships from 1986-88.
The greatest success in
the state gymnastics tournament has been enjoyed by the
Blue Streaks of Rocky River’s Magnificat High School.
The Blue Streaks won their first state championship in
1990 under head coach Julie Cleary. Since then, Joe
Gura has been at the helm, and the championships have
just kept piling up.
In Joe Gura’s first three
seasons with the Blue Streaks they won three more state
team championships, giving them four in a row. Leading
the way for Magnificat during those four seasons was
Kara Matus, who won three all-around championships
(1990, 1991, 1993) and nine individual titles overall.
Kara is the only girl in tournament history to hold an
individual championship in each of the five gymnastics
events. She just missed accomplishing this amazing feat
in a single season, 1990, when she finished first in
four of the five events, missing on her bid for a clean
sweep by failing to win the vault.
After failing to win the
team competition in both 1994 and 1995, Magnificat came
back to win four more in succession, 1996-97-98-99.
Leading the way for coach Gura’s team during those four
seasons was Julie Devaty. During her high school career
Ms. Devaty set a state record with 11 individual
championships, winning at least one state title in every
event except the vault. She won the all-around title
three times, just missing becoming a four-time winner
when she was beat out for the 1998 championship. She
also became the first girl to win four times in the same
event when she took the state championship on the
balance beam in 1996-97-98-99.
The Blue Streaks failed to
win the state title in both 2000 and 2001, but squeaked
out a win over Columbus St. Francis DeSales in 2002,
145.875-145.750, and again in 2003 by less that two full
points over Findlay High School.
Since 1990 Magnificat has
won 10 of 17 state gymnastics championships. Upper
Arlington High School won the title in 1995, the
school’s first gymnastics state championship. All of
the remaining six championships since 1990 have been won
by the Bees of Brecksville-Broadview Heights High
School, led by long-time gymnastics coach Joan Ganim.
The Bees won their first
state title in 1994. They did not win their next title
until 2000, and doubled their pleasure with another
championship in 2001. For all three years the Bees had
but one individual champion, Erica Trippet, who won the
balance beam in 2001. (She would repeat as that
champion in 2002.)
After relinquishing their
title to Magnificat’s Blue Streaks in 2002 and 2003, the
Bees have come back to win the last three state team
titles. As in their other championship seasons, in
these last three the Bees did not have one dominating
gymnast, but truly won as a team by placing several
girls in the top six in each event.
It has already been
mentioned that Julie Devaty of Magnificat was the first
girl to win four consecutive state championships in a
single event. In 2006 we had our second, and, strangely
enough, in the very same event. Gina Gastaldo, of West
Geauga High School, won the balance beam in 2006, giving
her four consecutive state championships in that event.
For the most
recent champions in girls gymnastics,