Eagle Rock High School's Maria Lange may have thought her teddy bear was the difference as her gymnastics team won its second straight Los Angeles City championship last week. Or maybe it was Cheryl Kochner's Cabbage Patch doll.
Between performances, Lange and Kochner kept firm grips on their good-luck charms, but it was really the experience of the Eagle Rock gymnasts that gave them the edge as the team defeated Venice for the title, 162.15 to 156.5.
Both Lange, whose all-around score of 36.80 topped all others that night, and teammates Samantha Persi and Kim Stapp, who also scored well, have strong backgrounds with good club programs, and Eagle Rock was appearing in its fifth consecutive city title meet.
Venice's Tonya Kwock, Raquel Franker and Mkeba Dunn also have been in club programs--but not for a good while--and this was the first time that they and their fellow performers had ever been in a City final.
Encouraged by Teammates
Before each girl performed in an event, her teammates would urge her on by calling out her name. In Franker's case, they shouted her nickname, "Rocky," and the name seemed appropriate for one of the underdog Venice performers--even though the Gondoliers went into the final with a 10-0 record in the regular season.
The cheering may have spurred Franker (whose home-run hitting brother Colin led the Venice baseball team to City 3-A titles in 1984 and 1985 and is now playing for the University of Hawaii) to one of her better outings in the vault, the evening's first event. She scored a 9.0, though that was topped by Stapp's mark of 9.15, and the teams were almost dead even after the end of vault competition.
After the uneven bars, where Kwock had the night's best mark of 9.20, less than a point separated the squads.
But on the balance beam, Venice's inexperience began to show. Three of the Venice girls slipped off the narrow beam, a couple of them more than once, during their routines. Although Kwock again had the high mark of the night (8.7) on that apparatus, she could not make up for her teammates' slips. And none of the Eagle Rock girls fell off the beam.
Going into the final event, floor exercise, Eagle Rock had increased its lead to about 3 points, and Venice couldn't make up the lost ground.
During the meet, a fan called Eagle Rock Coach Janis Fries over to the sideline to tell her that she had produced another good team. "I have the best kids," Fries said. "I always have the best kids. Win or lose, we're winners."
Although the Venice girls lost, they were also winners. Said Fries: "It was a good, clean, girls gymnastics meet between two schools that have high respect for each other. That's the way it should be."
She also had high praise for Venice Coach Myra Einberg, who came to Venice in 1982 after six years as a Belmont High gymnastics coach and two years at Huntington Park High.
Fries said that Einberg is "a marvelous coach. She's excellent, is very dedicated and a very good technician. She does a fabulous job of motivating the girls.
"It's a big honor to be in the City (finals)," said Einberg the day after the meet. "I mean, how many schools get there? Only two, and that's something that Venice was unable to do before. All I told them was, 'You have to go in there and try your hardest.' "
They did, but so did Eagle Rock.
Einberg was far from displeased with her girls' efforts. She said that Venice's score in the final was higher than the team's average this season.
She added that gymnastics requires a lot of dedication and that her performers are good students who still find time for hours of practice on their own. "A lot of them go to summer school to fit gymnastics into their schedule," she said.
One of them, senior Pam Weinstein, did such a good job of fitting in gymnastics as well as volleyball that she is graduating with a 4.0 grade-point average (nothing less than an A) and has been awarded an academic scholarship to Stanford, Einberg said. Weinstein also scored a lifetime best of 8.9 on the bars in the finals to finish second to teammate Kwock in that event.
Weinstein wasn't the only one to get high marks. Coach Einberg also received strong praise from George Rose, a Venice teacher and drug-abuse counselor who used to be Mr. Gymnastics at the school.
Before Rose, 50, decided to get out of coaching four years ago, his Venice boy gymnasts won a national championship in 1977, state titles in 1977 and 1973 and six Los Angeles City and 11 league championships. He also coached the Venice girls to a league championship in 1980.
For the last couple of years, Venice has not had a boys gymnastics team. A part-time coach, though considered good, couldn't sustain enough interest in the sport among the boys because he had a full-time job elsewhere and couldn't be on campus all day.