NEW PALESTINE — Just as the Carmel girls have ruled Indiana high school swimming for decades and the greater Muncie area has produced consistently dominant volleyball programs, northern Indiana is the land of gymnastics mighty mites.
Only once in 22 state finals since 1991 has a gymnastics team from outside the Valparaiso and Fort Wayne regions claimed the Indiana High School Athletic Association title.
As one of eight teams to qualify for the 2013 IHSAA championships today at Ball State’s Worthen Arena, New Palestine technically has the opportunity to claim the ultimate prize.
The Dragons, however, are all too aware of the odds.
“People are wishing us good luck and saying ‘Go win state,’” explained New Palestine senior Ciarra Hough, who will compete for the Dragons on the balance beam and floor exercise. “And I’m like, ‘Well, it’s big competition for state.’ We have a chance of getting fourth, but even that’s going to be really hard.
“There’s so many good teams that we haven’t even seen this year because they’re all up north.”
No. 2-ranked Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger claimed its fifth state title last season. No. 3 Valparaiso is the all-time leader with nine championships, while Homestead (in Fort Wayne) has six state crowns.
Perry Meridian has the most IHSAA gymnastics titles among non-northern schools with four. The Falcons’ last championship was in 1982.
For the Fort Wayne and Valparaiso area teams, including former state team title winners Hobart, Chesterton, Merrillville and current No. 1-ranked Portage, gymnastics is simply part of the youth sports culture.
“We have great skills for this part of the state,” New Palestine head coach Jenny Musselman said. “We’re one of the toughest teams around here. But up north, they are so good. They just have so many great programs that feed right into the high school programs, it’s unbelievable.”