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Originally published December 22, 2012 at 8:02 PM | Page modified December 24, 2012 at 9:25 PM

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Enumclaw gymnasts take meteoric ride to top

Since starting a team only two years ago, Enumclaw has almost instantly become one of the state's top programs under coach Ben Skipworth.

Special to The Seattle Times

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this is a great squad! I grew up doing gymnatics, this is the toughest sport ! MORE

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ENUMCLAW — A brief history of gymnastics at Enumclaw High School:

1887-2010: No team.

2010-11 season: Second place, 3A/2A state meet.

2011-12 season: 3A/2A state champion.

"We've started fast," Ben Skipworth, Enumclaw's 27-year-old coach, said of the school's swift transformation from nonentity to big dog in prep gymnastics.

In this rural outpost of 11,000 in King County's agrarian back 40, the team's success can be traced to the sport's roots in the community.

The backstory:

Popular gym, Enumclaw Gymnastics Center (EGC to locals), serves for decades as an activity hub for town's youth; club closes in 2007 (financial issues); a new gym, Peak Gymnastics, eventually opens in its place; the EGC faithful transition to Peak.

Parents see a gym bubbling over with talent; they petition school to sponsor a team; school agrees; school's first attempt to hire a coach misfires; it then hires Skipworth, the local guy who got introduced to coaching when he starting spotting youngsters at EGC at age 15.

Result: Instant dynasty. Not bad for a program that did not host its first home meet until Dec 12.

At the 3A/2A state team finals last year in Tacoma, Enumclaw put up 177.6 points, a school record and 9.8 more than second-place Columbia River.

Six EHS gymnasts finished in the top 32 in all-around, including Olivia Bannerot (second place), Maddison Ward (third), Molly Mattheis (10th) and Emily Berte (19th). All have level-9 club skills (Ward is a level 10), and all are back. Only Mattheis is a senior.

Freshman reinforcements, including Victoria Hernandez (level 8) and Tianna Johnson (level 7), have stepped in for departed graduates. (One grad is Erica Bonthuis, whose parents, Mark and Rhonda, run Peak.) Maria Blad, a returnee from the 2011 state-meet team, is one of nearly 30 girls on Skipworth's roster.

"I've known most of them since they were 6 or 7 years old," he said. "We've got a lot of talented girls, and more keep coming."

Skipworth is a home-schooled Enumclaw native whose mom sent him to EGC for exercise. He did not attend college, so outside of some clinics, what Skipworth knows about coaching has been learned in his hometown, starting in his midteens.

"He's coached me since I was, oh, 7 or 8," said Bannerot, a junior. "I remember when he just started. I was learning how to do a pretty difficult vault, and he was the only one strong enough to spot it. Every time I did it we'd always elbow each other in the face or slap each other. We'd come out of practice with bruises all over each other.

"It got to be kind of a joke," said Bannerot, who now teaches youth gymnasts herself. "He was a horrible spotter at first, but he would never let me fall.

"He's grown as a coach, we've grown as gymnasts, and we've gone through this whole process together," she said. "Now he really knows what he's doing, even if he didn't have professional training. He's a really great coach. He knows his stuff."

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