EHS girls fitness win 14th national title
For almost 30 years now, Emmaus has had a girls team compete in the National High School Physical Fitness Championships and 2015 marked the 14th season that the team has captured first place. Junior Meghan Cilento finished second nationally in the individual competition, trailing the top scorer by 10 points.
The girls team also consisted of seniors Taylor Bednar, Kristen Bray, Grace Linder and Sammi Roth and juniors Amber Gross and Shaelyn Weida. In addition to being on the fitness team, Bednar and Roth were also honor graduates, with grade point averages over 4.0.
Cilento surprised herself with the national second-place finish this season, in part because it was her first year staying committed to the team.
Between now and next season, Cilento is putting in extra work to hopefully take over the top spot individually in next year's competition and to help her team maintain its spot at the top of the standings.
"I'm actually starting right now," said Cilento of her offseason regimen. "The top girl was a senior, but I know there are a lot of other competitors underneath and I can't just assume that the top spot is mine.
"Because it was my first real year, I never really even thought of going to California this year and I could barely even do a pull-up at the beginning of the year. Just seeing that improvement was really cool, and keeps driving me."
The boys team finished in third place, behind South Bronx and a team from Little Rock, Arkansas.
Emmaus finished just two points behind Little Rock. While the third-place finish may have been disappointing for the kids on the team, as Gibbs pointed out to them, finishing third in a national competition isn't bad.
"I'd rather be third from the top than third from the bottom, is what I told them," said coach George Gibbs. "They thought they were letting me down in some way, but they did fine. They only missed second place by two points, I told them 'don't beat yourself up over that.'"
Junior Matt Kramer led the boys team in scoring this year. The rest of the boys roster included seniors Ryan Donmoyer, Connor Gray, Steve Peek, Kevin Stilo and Mike Villeneuve, juniors Ian Adams and Chris Gauntner. Two sophomores, Jac Cornell and Paul Iannace also made the team. Like Bednar and Roth, Villeneuve was also an honor graduate.
Peek is the fourth member of his family that made the trip to California as part of the fitness team and Adams' father competed with the team in 1983.
Gibbs has had a number of three-sibling families on his teams, but Peek was the first to make his family a four-sibling family.
Gibbs believes that the level of dedication from his athletes is part of the reason why they've been successful. The long time coach noted that Stilo didn't miss a practice all season and Sammi Roth missed a total of five practices over four years. Roth's absences included two college visits, one because of the death of her grandfather, one to study for an AP test and one because she was sick.
Gibbs has been the one constant on the Emmaus fitness team.
Gibbs took over the program in 1971 and added the girls team in 1987. He has continued on as the team's coach even after retiring as a teacher in 1999.
While he's been heading the program, Gibbs believes that the success is rooted in the kids who come out for the team.
"I just get great kids, kids that are very dedicated, very loyal," said Gibbs. "People ask 'how do you win so much?' and I say 'honestly, it's not me. I just get up in the wagon, pull the reins and say giddy-up.' The kids are the ones that pull the wagon; they're doing the hard work. They're doing the grunt work."
Fitness is considered a club sport and doesn't receive financial support from the school or East Penn School District.
The program survives thanks to donations from the community and organizations like the Lions Club, which hosts a dinner in honor of the team after each year's competition.
Gibbs also pointed out that parents of the players have been instrumental in providing support for the team, whether raising money, driving members to meets in various areas or making the trip to the west coast to support the team.
The competition is held annually at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego and is comprised of pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, standing long jump and a 300-yard shuttle run. Competitors are awarded points based on their performance in each of the areas.