Young gymnast makes her move

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 28, 2003

Savannah Gerber, the 9-year-old daughter of Donna and Jeff Williamson, has done it again. The diminutive Straughn

third grader recently returned from the state gymnastics tournament with the first place win in her level and age division. Her team, the Enterprise Aerials, also won first place.

"There were 191 competing in Level 5," said her mother. "She was first in her age division and eighth overall."

Last year, Savannah brought home top honors for her age division in Level 4.

Moving up to each level means acquiring new skills and to go from Level 4 to Level 5 was no exception.

"I had to do things differently on the vault," said Savannah, "I had to land on my feet instead of on the mat, and I had to do a cartwheel on the balance beam."

Part of the move upward involved just that - a move upward - as she began to include the high bar of the uneven bars in her routine. That was no problem for Savannah, since the uneven bars are her favorite aspect of gymnastics.

Savannah has been taking gymnastics since she was six, but only began competing last year. Starting off with such success - in the two years she has competed, she has won more than 80 medals and trophies - is not a matter of luck, but dedication.

"She goes to practice three days a week," said her mother.

"Four in the summer," added Savannah.

Going to practice doesn't mean a quick run down to the local gym, either. Savannah practices in Enterprise with Jeff and Ellen Pangallo, which means a good part of her week is spent on the road. And when she isn't practicing in Enterprise, she's practicing at home, where she has her own gym, complete with trampoline, balance beam and uneven bars. This traveling has cut into many other activities she had been doing, but she doesn't mind.

"She was taking ballet and jazz dance classes," said Williamson. "I'm sure they helped with her gymnastics, especially the floor exercises, but she didn't have time for them. It was her decision. This is what she wants. She has to work hard, but she knows what she's got to do."

Now what Savannah has to do is get ready for the next level - Level 6. She's already working on the new moves she will have to learn, although her advanced training doesn't technically begin until next Tuesday.

"Instead of cartwheels, I have to do a back walkover on the balance beam," said Savannah. "We have to do an aerial - that's like a cartwheel with no hands. You have to do a back tuck off the bar."

Even though the uneven bars are her favorite, it was her 9.225 score on floor exercises at the state meet that wowed her mother.

"She did a beautiful floor exercise, the best she's ever done," said Williamson.

Savannah scored 9.17 on the vault, 8.9 on the bars and 8.95 on the balance beam, earning an overall 36.225 out of 40 possible points to give her the win.

Even though she's pretty confident that she has all of her new moves down, she won't shirk the opportunity to practice even more. Besides her regular practices three times a week, she will be attending a gymnastics camp this summer, spending a week at Tuscaloosa learning from the University of Alabama gymnastics team. Since Savannah plans to be on

that team one day, she's eagerly looking forward to the camp. She's also hoping to go to some of the Alabama meets this year, and see her future team in action.