TIFTON -- It is not often that a team in its first year of existence has someone shine at state competition.
That was the case for the Tift County Lady Devils gymnastics team this past season. Freshman Morgan Jones not only performed well, she won one state event title in the floor exercise and finished second overall in the individual competition.
"I was very excited," said Jones. "I definitely want to go for the all-around state championship next season."
Tift County head coach Kelly Scarbor thinks that is a realistic goal for Jones.
"Morgan is a very determined competitor. She goes for gold in all that she does. I don't foresee that changing, whether she is a freshman or a senior," the coach stated. "However, most gymnasts at the state competition have been training in private clubs from a very early age. So most are experienced competitors, even the freshmen."
Even though Jones has been competing since she was five years old, Scarbor was still impressed with the ninth grader's first foray into competition at the high school level.
"Morgan is currently a level nine gymnast and will be moving to level ten next year. Her skill level and technique are very advanced," Scarbor said.
"I would have been surprised if she didn't have a good season. However, I don't know if I would have predicted a state champion on floor exercise and all-around runner-up to have come from Tift County."
Jones added, "there was definitely a difference competing for the high school. I can't describe it, but it was different."
"Morgan is very consistent," said her coach. "She scored above a 9.00 in all four events. That is what makes her a dynamic all-around gymnast.
Scarbor hopes Jones' success will rub off onto the rest of the fledgling program at Tift County High.
"I hope the program will continue to grow. We are still a very young team. However, there are several promising young gymnasts who would make an excellent addition to our team in years to come," said Scarbor.
"Most of our current team began practicing during competition season because they are involved in other school sports or activities. In order to be competitive at the state level, gymnasts really need to devote their time to year round training."
Like her coach, Jones would like to see her teammates with her next season.
"It would be neat to have the rest of the team up there with me next year," the freshman said. "I want to build our team up."
Most of the Tift County team has done its training at the facilities provided by Dream It Gymnastics in Tifton. Scarbor feels like Dream It has played a big part in the development of Jones and the rest of the Lady Devils.
"Dream It is an invaluable resource to the TCHS gymnastics team. Tift County is very fortunate to have Dream It located in Tifton. We are able to train at Dream It's facilities. Morgan trains year round and Elena Pankratova at Dream It is a world class gymnastics coach," Scarbor said.
While Dream It has sparked an interest in gymnastics in Tifton and Tift County, the number of teams in south Georgia trails the number of schools with teams in the Atlanta area. Currently, there are only 43 high schools in the state of Georgia that field gymnastics teams.
"I hope more South Georgia schools will start a gymnastics team. It will allow female athletes another avenue in which to represent their school," said Scarbor.
While Scarbor wants to build the entire Tift team, she is impressed with the way Jones has already gotten the program state-wide attention.
"I am very proud of Morgan. She devotes an enormous amount of time to gymnastics and really has the dedication to the sport to go far. Morgan is also an honor roll student and with the amount of time she spends in the gym, that is especially impressive," Scarbor said.
The coach then added, "Morgan will begin soon working on adding more difficult skills. For a competitor like Morgan the sky is the limit."
This weekend, Jones will traveled with her parents, Bill and Tracy, to Tampa for the Level 9 Eastern Nationals. Jones qualified for that after winning the Level 9 Region Championship in the Senior A division in a recent competition held at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
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