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Citrus senior Shaquilla Grice doesn't mind wearing her black-and-gold striped weightlifting singlet.

In fact, the cheerleader, who competes in the 139-pound division, likes it quite a lot.

"And she's got the body to wear it," Citrus junior Jazmin Cepeda said.

Along with her teammates, Grice, Cepeda and 110-pound senior Kate Erickson don't care that the Spandex tightly hugs their figures.

"We look cute," said Cepeda, a 119-pounder. "And it shows off our bodies."

But many don't share the same attitude.

Crystal River sophomore Kara Stanford (199) jokes that she now wears a girdle under her singlet because she dislikes the new uniform so much.

"I freaked out," Stanford said about the first time she put on the one-piece garment. "I thought I was ugly and fat."

Her teammate, sophomore Brittany Kellner, doesn't care for the singlet.

"I thought they were a little provocative, because you can see every part of the body, especially when you are lying down on the bench," said Kellner (139). "It is uncomfortable."

But they are learning how to deal with it since the Florida High School Athletic Association made two new rules: girls must compete in singlets, instead of T-shirts and shorts, and must clean-and-jerk instead of just cleaning, as they had in previous years.

"Every girl has parts of their body they are self-conscious about," said Crystal River's Breanna Driver, who is in the unlimited (200-plus) class.

"But I really love weightlifting," she said. "So I'm going to have to deal with it, and it's not going to stop me."

It has stopped coaches at five Marion County schools: Vanguard, North Marion, Lake Weir, Dunnellon and Ocala West Port. They opted to compete but not be FHSAA sanctioned.

"Most of the girls didn't want to do it," North Marion coach Ron Simmons said. "Why do something they don't want to do and push them away?"

Simmons said girls weightlifting was started in Marion County eight years ago to help with Title IX, a federal gender equity law.

"We don't want to (clean-and-) jerk because jerking over the head makes girls feel unsafe," Simmons said.

"As a father of two daughters, including a state finalist, I don't like the idea of my daughter lifting 150 pounds over her head. Why should I make my daughter, who doesn't have the upper-body development of a male, do that? Why would we have girls do the same as the boys do? That doesn't make sense."

Participation problems

Citrus coach Doug Patton, who encouraged the FHSAA to recognize the sport, is facing a problem he didn't have before the rule changes: trying to get girls to come out.

Last year, Patton coached 44 lifters. This season he has 16.

Forty-two signed up this fall, but after Patton told the athletes about the rules, most didn't come back. Three Hurricanes who competed in last year's unlimited division and could have returned opted out.

Patton attributes the decrease in numbers to the new rules.

"It's a double whammy," Patton said. "It's a combination of the two. If you had one one year and one another year, that might not have such a great impact, but to have it all at once is just nuts."

Citrus doesn't have a single returning lifter from any division 169 pounds or higher. Only some graduated.

"We tried to convince them to come back out, but many were scared about the bar dropping on their head in the clean-and-jerk and some just wouldn't compete in a singlet," Erickson said.

Citrus wasn't the only school to experience problems.

Crystal River coach Charles Brooks lost several athletes at the beginning of the season but has since had more come out for the team.

"I lost five girls that didn't want to wear (the singlet)," Brooks said. "A lot of people say those that drop just aren't dedicated, but they just didn't feel like it was an appropriate way to compete.

"Can you justify it? No," he said. "It's just an added expense, and I don't think it makes any difference. If you teach correct technique, it doesn't matter if it's in a singlet or not."

Despite the drop in numbers at Citrus, Patton has been in favor of girls doing the clean-and-jerk. He started teaching it to his girls several years ago.

"If the boys can do it, the girls can do it," Patton said. "I realize a number of them are afraid to do it, but that's something they can get over just by doing it."

What he doesn't understand is making girls wear singlets. Last year, the boys had to compete in them because baggy shorts made it difficult for judges to see if an athlete was lifting off the bench during a press.

"I see no logical reason for them," Patton said.

"If it eliminates one, let alone five or six girls from doing the sport, what have we done? There is no reason for that. It's not a safety issue. There's just no reason they have to do that."

But some coaches disagree.

Michael Randow, who guides the defending state champion Spruce Creek program, said the rules are an opportunity to showcase what girls can do.

"Yes, you are going to miss some girls here and there, but I've never had a young lady come up and say, "I don't want to do this because I don't want the bar over my head or I don't want to wear a singlet," Randow said.

"They are just excited about the fact they get to compete and wear a singlet," he said.

David Tullis, on the FHSAA weightlifting advisory board and a boys coach for 30 years and girls since 1998 at Lake Brantley, likes the rule changes.

"The singlets standardize the sport," Tullis said. "It eliminates problems where officials are trying to tell if rear ends are coming off the bench."

Patton, who officiated boys "for years before the girls," said he never had a problem deciding.

Tullis likes the addition of the clean-and-jerk, saying it's a positive change because girls are more flexible and stronger in the lower body than boys.

"And the jerk is done with your lower body, so it should be easier," Tullis said. "Besides, if girls are weak, shouldn't we try to make them stronger? I have four daughters, and I think girls can do the same things guys can do."

The benefits

FHSAA associate director Tamara Wilsey, who oversees girls weightlifting, knows that not everyone is happy with the changes but thinks they will help the sport.

She said mandating singlets makes the activity look more professional and is important to maintaining integrity.

"If you can't see someone's back or buttocks on the bench, how do you know if they are lifting properly or not," Wilsey said. "Besides, you wear what's appropriate for your sport. In swimming, you wear a swim suit. In weightlifting, you wear a singlet."

Wilsey, a certified personal trainer, said the bench has more chance for injuries than the clean-and-jerk.

"We treat it as a serious sport," she said. "We don't look at is a Title IX filler but (as) keeping true with sports rules as we can."

The FHSAA, Wilsey said, gave everyone a year's notice about the changes to allow coaches to teach the clean-and-jerk and prepare for the ramifications of paying for singlets. They cost $35-80, which could buy three T-shirts and shorts.

"We'll probably have a decrease in participation until we get serious athletes back," Wilsey said. "But this sport is not a number cruncher, where coaches try to get as many girls out as possible. Now it's treated as an actual sport."

Which begs the question: What kind of sport is FHSAA weightlifting?

It combines powerlifting (bench) and Olympic lifting (clean-and-jerk), which are considered different sports.

Some would like to see the prep competition go toward Olympic weightlifting, which would not include the bench but add the snatch, which is how Olympians compete.

"It is my belief that Florida is chalk full of exceptional athletes," said St. Edward's School boys coach and FHSAA weightlifting advisory committee member Les Rogers, whose school doesn't offer girls weightlifting.

"If we begin to develop athletes by having them compete in the Olympic format, we can produce more Olympians," he said. "Instead, we have this odd concoction."

Rich Lansky, USA Weightlifting president of the local Florida committee, said five preps are full-scholarship Olympic athletes.

Lansky, who likes the rule changes, is in favor of the sport moving toward an Olympic style.

"The whole idea is not just to have fun but to allow the girls the same opportunity the as boys," Lansky said. "What better way than for them to learn new skills and have it possibly take them to the next level."

Simmons and Interlachen's Jack Williams are against it.

"We aren't interested in sending girls to the Olympics," Simmons said. "We are interested in getting them out for Title IX. This is a sport they can do for the rest of their life."

Williams said if the high school level adopted Olympic or powerlifting, it would destory the sport.

"It will divide the sport into two factions and make everyone worse off," Williams said.

"I know that might not be a good enough answer, but I'm kind of old fashioned. My point is just leave it alone. We've been doing fine with what we've been doing."

HOW TO CLEAN-AND-JERK

Each lifter has three attempts. The sum of an athlete's best bench and clean-and-jerk equals the lifter's total. An athlete must have a successful attempt in both lifts to score or place.

1. With the bar on the platform, the athlete stands over the barbell, looks down and lines the bar over the balls of the feet. The feet should be about hip width apart. The lifter assumes the starting position by bending the knees, lowering the hips and gripping the barbell with a grip that's slightly wider than shoulder width. In the starting position, the shoulders should be over the bar and the back arched tightly.

2. To start the pull, the athlete pushes feet to the floor. As the barbell reaches knee height, the back stays arched and maintains the same angle to the floor as in the starting position. The back remains rigid throughout the lift. The angle of the back relative to the floor remains the same until the bar passes the knees.

3. When the barbell passes the knees, the athlete vigorously raises the shoulders, keeping the bar as close to the legs as possible. When the body is extended, the lifter shrugs their shoulders and starts pulling with the arms, keeping the barbell close to the body. This is accomplished by lifting the elbows out to the side, keeping them over the bar as long as possible. From this position, the lifter aggressively pulls the body under the bar.

4. The lifter quickly flips the elbows around to catch the bar on the shoulders as the athlete descends to the front squat position.

5. The athlete stands up from the squat position, moves the feet back beneath (slightly less than shoulder width), adjusts the grip as necessary and ceases all motion.

6. The lifter bends legs while keeping back rigid, shoulders directly over hips and hips directly over feet. The athlete immediately extends legs forcefully, driving the bar straight overhead.

7. The lifter splits legs (one in front, one behind) and pushes self under the bar to arms length. The descent of the bar is halted. The athlete carefully extends both legs, steps backward with the front leg and forward with the back leg to bring both feet parallel with the body.

_ Images courtesy of RICH LANSKY, CSCS USA weightlifting certified international coach director of coaching _ Team Florida Weightlifting, Inc.

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