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Stars back as favorites
Gymnastics return after 10-year break

High school gymnastics teams don't come along often, particularly in Gwinnett. At Providence Christian, it happens every 10 years.

But when the Stars have teams, they're usually pretty good.

That's the case this spring for Providence, the highest-scoring gymnastics squad of the six state finalists in tonight's season-ending meet at Westminster. The other five finalists that advanced out of area competition are all Class AAAAA schools - Milton, Chattahoochee, Lassiter, Walton and Newnan.

Providence is a Class A school with less than 400 students, but it does feature four really good gymnasts. That foursome could bring Gwinnett its first-ever team state champion in Georgia High School Association gymnastics.

"We scored 110.975 at the area meet and the next team was Milton with 108.525," said Providence coach Gwyn Puckett, a University of Georgia gymnast from 1973-75. "Gymnastics is a sport where a hundredth of a point can separate first and second. So we had a little cushion (at area).

"But on any night, anything can happen. The girls have to perform to the best of their ability and we'll see what happens."

Providence last fielded a gymnastics team in 1999, but didn't have enough athletes for another one until this school year. A move-in and an injured gymnast who returned to competition helped build the pool of athletes to four.

It takes three athletes to score at a meet, and gymnastics isn't a sport that lends itself to pulling average students in and teaching them quickly.

"You can't just recruit someone to come out (for the team) and perform gymnastics at the level they need to be at," said Puckett, whose daughters Courtney and Lindsey are Providence grads and former standout gymnasts at Auburn.

The Stars posted the top score of 39 schools at the area meet, qualifying as one of the top six for today's finals. They also went undefeated in their three regular-season meets.

Senior Devon Young is joined by three underclassmen on Providence's roster - juniors Michelle Shealy and Melanie Blackburn and freshman Trystien Charles. Blackburn had been out with a back injury, but recently returned to competition. Shealy, who was second in the all-around at the area meet, has committed to Iowa State.

"(The school's) so fired up about the team, everyone's so excited," Puckett said. "At the end of January, we brought in a balance beam and did an exhibition at the girls and boys basketball games. These girls are humble and don't talk much about what they do, but for them to be able to compete for Providence is great.

"People were so impressed and excited by what kind of athletes these girls are."

SideBar: Gymnastics

· What: GHSA State Finals

· When: Today, 7 p.m.

· Where: Westminster