Duke VanVleet's first visit to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado last month exceeded his expectations.
VanVleet, 14, received an invitation to the center for a week-long gymnastics camp based on his top-four finish in the Class III National Team Championships in May. His performance gained him membership on this year's Junior Olympics National Team.
"I think I really benefited a lot from going to the camp," said VanVleet. "There was high-quality coaching and the gym had two of everything you needed to work out."
VanVleet and 13 other national team members trained every day, twice each day but two. Especially significant to him was his improvement on the high bar. As a result, he said, his confidence increased.
"The camp was a very positive experience for both of us," said David Bradley, VanVleet's coach at the Apollo School of Gymnastics in Clearwater for almost two years. "Even though Duke has been in gymnastics just four years, his intensity has made his development phenomenal.
"His work ethic is exceptional. He's not put in nearly the amount of hours training the way the other top gymnasts have, but he is still right up there with them and is just outstanding."
Next week, VanVleet, Alex Khoury and Evan Eleff are scheduled to attend a three-day Florida Team Camp. The top six gymnasts from each class in the state are invited. VanVleet will be in Class II for the camp, 10-year-old Khoury in IV, and 11-year-old Eleff in III.
"Duke has the skills," added Bradley. "He needs to have fun and learn. If he does, he'll go far."
This fall, VanVleet will begin the Olympic developmental testing with hopes of making the Junior National Team again and insuring a return trip to the training center in Colorado.
This competitive season, the rising freshman at Countryside High plans to skip the Class II level and compete at the elite level.
"Duke has the skills," said Bradley. "He needs to have fun and learn. If he does, he'll go far."
Soccer: Four Pinellas teams are in Greenville, S.C., this week competing in the U.S. Soccer National Championships Southern Regional. Clearwater Chargers girls and boys under-12 teams, the Palm Harbor Nighthawks under-14 boys, and the Countryside Lightning under-19 boys are vying for regional bragging rights.
Countryside won three games to reach Thursday's semifinal game with North Carolina, this year's Sun Bowl champion. Countryside eliminated North Carolina in overtime and is to play Tennessee tonight for the title and the chance to compete at nationals for the second consecutive year.
Roller skating: Terry Plecas qualified for the National Roller Skating Championships in Syracuse, N.Y., this month after her performance in regional competition in Pensacola last month. Advancing to the Junior Olympics Nationals in August in Fresno, Calif., are Dante Swain, Sally Davis and Regina Scarpetta.
Reaching the finals in various other divisions at Pensacola were Jill Svarzkopf, Scarpetta and Sandy O'Shields.
State-wide tennis: Marissa Catlin of Clearwater was a finalist in the girls 18 State Closed Singles Championships last month. Catlin, seeded third in the 64-player draw, lost in the final to top seed Jacquelyn Rosen of Tampa 6-1, 6-3.
Girls 16 No. 1 seed Christa Grey of Seminole was upset in a semifinal by Marci Hora of Delray Beach 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
Challenger tennis: Lauren Campbell, Carla Wrassmann, Kristin Foelgren and Ilana Greenberg were winners in their respective age divisions in the second tournament of the Junior Grand Prix Challenger Series held at the Lakewood Country Club last weekend.
Boys winners were Carson Crooms (10), David Cosper (12) and Jonathan Crooms (14). Nicky Ball of St. Petersburg was named the sportsmanship winner.
The next event is July 7-9 at Royal Racquet Club in Clearwater. For more details, call 796-1136.
Fred Johnson of Seminole won his third boys tournament in as many weeks with an upset victory over No. 1 seed Patrick Bateman of Orlando in Orlando's Junior Hardcourt Championships. The second-seeded Johnson won 6-1, 6-2.
Gymnastics: Christy Hinz, Kalia Johnston and Ashley Colson compete July 7-8 in Savannah, Ga., in the YMCA Gymnastics National Championships for Level 5 competitors.
Tae kwon do: Allison Haworth and Fred and Andy Wolfe travel to Los Angeles this weekend for the 16th Junior Olympic Games. A medal would result in being named to the Junior National Team and participation in the Junior World Games in Korea.