The most popular sport at the 2016 Summer Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is expected to be women's gymnastics, according to a popular gymnastics website.
That doesn't surprise Bonnie Petitt, the owner and coach at Bright Stars Gymnastics Academy, located off Bargaintown Road in Egg Harbor Township.
Even before Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney - the "Fab Five" of the 2012 U.S. women's gymnastic team - became media sensations, the sport had been gaining in popularity with a new passion, she said.
Petitt's own competitive teams consist of more than 70 gymnasts ranging in age from 5 to 15 years old.
"Gymnastics is their passion. This dedicated group trains as many as 20 hours per week," said Petitt, who has been operating Bright Stars for the past nine years. "These girls are both individually and collectively outstanding, inside and outside the gym."
The academy's Level 7 Team recently earned 23 medals at a sectionals competition held earlier this month in Cherry Hill. It was the first time competing at this level, and the team did well, Petitt said.
In the 10- and 11-year-old groups, Eva Morrison, 10, of Linwood, placed third in the all-around, floor, beam and bars, and Mariah Stephens, 10, of Egg Harbor Township, placed third on vault.
Alia Yannone, 11, of Egg Harbor Township, placed second on floor and third on vault and the all-around, and Elizabeth Buzby, 11, of Linwood, placed third on beam and floor.
In the older group, Rae Anna Schultz, 12, of Mays Landing won the sectional titles in the all-around, beam and floor events. She also placed second on vault and bars. Jessica Tabor, 12, of Egg Harbor Township, won the vault sectional title and placed third on beam. Claudine Smith, 12, of Egg Harbor Township, placed second on beam and floor, third in the all-around, and fourth on vault. Christine Lord, 15, of Egg Harbor Township, placed third on floor. Maya Wahl, 12, of Egg Harbor Township, competed with personal highlights including her new full twist tumbling pass on floor.
The girls are now preparing for the state championships to be held April 26 at Bergen County Community College, where they will compete against 35 other teams, Petitt said.
She said the girls are looking forward to the higher level of competition. The team placed fifth at last year's championships.
Bright Stars can already boast to having four state champions at the Level 3 and 4 teams.
From Level 3 are Kate Delucca, 6, of Egg Harbor Township; Kallan Tripician, 9, of Longport; and Reece Smith, 8, of Galloway Township.
Representing Level 4 was Hailey Bonnelli, 10, of Galloway Township.
Petitt would like the public to know that a golf tournament fundraiser to benefit all the competitive teams will be held May 31 at Mays Landing Golf and County Club, 1855 Cates Road, Mays Landing. The cost is $125 all inclusive, or $35 luncheon only.
The Bright Stars Open will kick off with a breakfast at 8 a.m. A shotgun start takes place 9 a.m. The day includes a barbecue luncheon and ends with an awards presentation at 2:30 p.m. Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place, and hole in one. The day includes a 50/50 raffles and Chinese auction.
The Bright Stars team gymnasts will perform throughout the day.
Reservations are needed by May 10. Contact Tony Bonelli of the Bright Stars Academy Parents Association at 609-703-1039.
Contact Lucia C. Drake:
If you go
Bright Stars Open golf tournament to benefit competitive gymnastics teams
Mays Landing Golf and County Club, 1855 Cates Road, Mays Landing
May 31, breakfast 8 a.m.; shotgun start 9 a.m.; barbecue luncheon follows; awards at 2:30 p.m.
$125 all inclusive / $35 luncheon only
Reserve by May 10. Call Tony Bonelli at 609-703-1039.