By TERRY JONES
NORTH TAMPA -- Mention gymnastics and women usually come to mind.
Mary Lou Retton. Shannon Miller. Nadia Comaneci.
Okay, now name some male gymnasts. There's Bart Conner, and ... well ... there are others, but face it, the sport is dominated by women.
That's also true when it comes to training. Quality gymnastics programs for boys are scarce.
Recognizing this void, Adam Miller has made a career establishing gymnastics programs for boys.
He developed a program at LeFleurs Gymnastics in Carrollwood and ran it for nearly seven years. He worked at the U.S. Gymnastics Training Center in California. Now he is building a competitive program at Lightning City Gymnastics in north Tampa.
This is the second year that Miller, 26, is involved in a program that already is training more than 50 young male gymnasts. "We started this program in 2000, with me working part time, but late last year we built it up enough for me to be here all the time," Miller said. "Now we have an active developmental program, a six-member competitive team and several others qualified to move up to competition.
"On April 20, we will compete in the state championships in Gainesville," Miller said.
Different numeric categories are used in men's and women's gymnastics. Women begin the sport at Level 1 and work up to Level 10 and elite; men begin the sport at Class 7, working up to Class 1 and elite.
Chas Balliet, 14, is a Class 3 gymnast. Miller says he continues to improve and should be in the hunt for a state championship next month.
Stephen Eschenbrener, 11, is the only Class 5 competitor.
Matthew Jackson, 6, Andrew Androlewicz, 6, Deon Pride, 8, and Conner O'Brien, 8, are in Class 7.
Miller's students compete in floor exercises, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars and high bar. The boys seem to do best in the high bar, which includes numerous aerial turns and twists, Miller said.
In the state championships in April, Miller believes his students will do well individually, but not in the team competition.
Miller offers several reasons for the lack of U.S. training programs for male gymnasts.
"Most males start young in gymnastics and become excellent athletes," Miller said. "Then as they grow older, other sports usually attract the better athletes, including young gymnasts. Gymnastics does not generate income like football and basketball but cost scholarship dollars. That is probably why so few colleges have programs."
Being a competitive gymnast was not Miller's objective when he enrolled in a program to learn the sport. He was heavily involved in martial arts and was looking for a way to get more aerial movement into his routines.
"Bruce Lee was my idol and I wanted to get more of his type of aerial movements into my competitive skills," Miller said. "After one lesson, I was doing back flips and after a couple of months, the gym owner offered me a job helping teach gymnastics. I moved to Tampa shortly after that to work with LeFleurs, and the rest is history."
In April, "we don't have enough guys to total the points needed to win the team title yet, but in a few years we will," Miller said. "But our guys can stand tall in their age and class competition and should come home with some medals."
Maybe he'll even turn out a few Olympic gold medalists like the 1984 team of Connor, Mitch Gaylord, Peter Vidmar, Tim Daggett, James Hartung and Scott Johnson.
If you go
For information about classes at Lightning City Gymnastics, call Adam Miller at 558-0035.
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