Island gymnast helps win first state championship in 11 years
Jamestown’s Mariah Messinger competed on the beam, the bars and in the floor event in her first state championship Monday. Although she admits she was nervous during her routines, she felt happy by the end of the night — as a state champion.
North Kingstown High School came home with its first state title in gymnastics in 11 years. The victory at North Smithfield High School ended La Salle’s decadelong domination at the state tournament.
The Skippers, led by teammates Allison DiBiase and Brianna Calise, both of North Kingstown, rolled up 138.850 points, which was just enough to win the Division I title.
La Salle Rams finished the competition right behind the Skippers with 137.50 points. Regular-season champions Barrington finished third with 136.375 points.
“It was pretty close,” Mariah said.
Allison, who is a sophomore like Mariah, finished second in several events and was runner-up in the all-around, posting 36.175 points for the Skippers. Brianna, a senior, finished fourth overall with 35.225 points.
But there was a little anxiety following the competition. Even after the final event, the Skippers didn’t know they’d won. One of Mariah’s teammates had the job of adding up the scores, and when she reported the Skippers had “138 points,” the team figured they had a “good chance” to win. But they didn’t know for sure until the judges made the announcement.
Ironically, North Kingstown High almost didn’t have a gymnastics team this season. Gymnastics was among several sports programs that the school board cut due to the district’s financial problems.
It is also not the only team to lose funding and still end up in the playoffs.
Principal Thomas Kenworthy said the school would still support the sports programs if funding could be worked out or obtained through private sources. Parents and students raised money to restore the co-ed ice hockey program and to save freshman boys’ basketball. As part of the arrangement to save gymnastics, the school committee appointed head coach Kerrie Rubeira as an unpaid volunteer.
The investments paid off. The boys’ freshman team made the state tournament but lost in the first round. The hockey team won the Division II-South title. They will play in the state championship quarterfinals Friday night against North Smithfield at the Boss Arena at the University of Rhode Island.
Mariah, 15, said she was optimistic the team would continue, despite the financial shortcomings.
“I figured they would probably try to fund it,” she said. “They actually cut a lot of teams at North Kingstown High, and they funded themselves.”
The gymnastics team has extra costs because it rents practice space at Aim High in East Greenwich, according to Amy Messinger, Mariah’s mother.
“It’s more of an out-of-pocket expense,” she said.
Mariah said she practices twice a week with the team and also practices several times a week at the Newport County YMCA where she is taking gymnastics classes.
During the offseason, she usually goes to the YMCA four times a week, Mariah said.
She competes in vault, beam and bars, but her favorite is the floor event.
“I was a little nervous, so I don’t think my routines were as good as they usually are,” she said, referring to the state championship meet. “This is my first year doing it.”
But overall, Mariah thinks she fared well.
“I did OK,” she said. “My scores are judged based off a level 9.”
In other words, the judges deduct points for mistakes from 9 instead of 10.
“The scoring system is so confusing,” Amy Messinger admitted.
Mariah has competed in meets at the Newport YMCA, but according to her mother, she is in gymnastics mostly for fun and because she enjoys it.
At the state championship, at least six members of each team must compete in the various events. Mariah is the only Jamestown resident on the roster of 13.
“Since there are not a lot of people that try out, they didn’t cut anybody,” she said. “But not everybody competes.”
Mariah started the year competing in vault, beam, bars and floor, but she came off vault after a team member, who had been injured, returned to competition and replaced her.
Mariah went to the Jamestown schools and was always athletic. In sixth grade she ran cross-country, and she was on the track team in eighth grade. Her favorite subjects are Spanish and math.
According to Mariah, she started gymnastics when she was “really little,” but she decided to drop it. She started back in seventh grade when she told her parents she wanted to take classes.
“I just liked being able to do tricks and flips and stuff,” she said. “I think it’s cool.”
She used to do flips off the diving board at her friend’s pool or at the beach.
When asked about a picture taken Monday night of her upside down and perpendicular to the ground as she flipped off the bars, she said she used to be scared doing some of the moves.
“When I first started learning, it was scary,” she said. “But it’s not anymore.”