Delmont coach shares her love of gymnastics
Monday, February 20, 2023 | 10:11 AM
Renee Ruggeri, the original and sole owner of Ultimate Gymnastics in Delmont, has devoted almost her entire life to the sport she loves.
She went from a hall-of-fame gymnastics career to a hall-of-fame coaching career.
“The success I have had in my almost 40 years of coaching has been aided by the countless friends and families that have helped me, supported me and put up with me for all this time,” Ruggeri said. “No one can do this alone, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people and touched so many lives.
“I cannot imagine gymnastics not being part of my life. I think I have tried to make decisions throughout my career that benefit the kids.”
The former WPIAL and state individual champion began participating in gymnastics at age 4 and went on to compete in high-level USGF, WPIAL and state competitions.
Ruggeri was a decorated gymnast at Baldwin from 1979-83, where she was a two-time state champion on the uneven bars, two-time WPIAL winner on the balance beam and bars, and earned a WPIAL title on the floor in her junior season.
Ruggeri, whose maiden name is Baumann, suffered a back injury as a senior but still qualified for the state finals in two events.
After a successful stint as at Division I gymnast at Clarion, where she majored in math and specialized in the bars and beam events, Ruggeri returned to Baldwin as an assistant under her high school coach, Bill Erdos.
At Clarion, she also was involved in musicals and the show choir and volunteered as an English tutor and gymnastics coach.
Ruggeri took over as head coach at Baldwin from 1988-96, guiding the Highlanders to a state championship in 1994 and to three consecutive WPIAL team titles from 1994-96.
She was inducted into the Baldwin High School Sports Hall of Fame as a gymnast and as a coach.
“My son was born in 1995,” Ruggeri said, “and I judged high school gymnastics for a few years after that. I stopped coaching for a few years, (then) moved to Lower Burrell in 2004 when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, who is now a senior at Burrell. I coached at the YMCA and was head coach of the team from 2005 until 2007.”
The tireless and dedicated Ruggeri, who recently celebrated her 58th birthday and works for BNY Mellon as a senior systems support engineer, opened Ultimate Gymnastics in October 2007 and observed a 15th anniversary as owner in the fall.
“I decided it was time to do it or quit thinking about it,” Ruggeri said. “I had a good core group of girls and parents at the YMCA who were ready to move on and make it happen. Some of them are still around today coaching and supporting me. I have had a lot of good and bad advice and people thought I was crazy for opening a gym.
“I have several coaches and many junior class coaches. Team coaches include Leanne Kardos, a former gymnast and a friend for more 40 years; Cheyenne Rothholz; Andy Cox, a friend for more than 30 years; Gina Batiz, a former gymnast and original team member; Abby Mossing, another former gymnast; Jacki Kmetz; and Staci Kmetz.”
One of the top gymnasts at Ultimate is 14-year-old freshman Olivia Kovach, an independent competitor for Mt. Pleasant who has attained USAG Level 9 status. She competes all-around, participating on the balance beam, floor exercise, parallel bars and vault, and has been an annual USAG state competitor.
“Renee is a great coach, and I love being able to be one of her competitors,” Kovach said. “She makes practice fun even if I have a rough day. She pushes me to always do my best. I have only been a competitor with Ultimate and want to finish my senior year with her.”
Ultimate offers USAG competitive gymnastics for levels 2 to 10 and XCEL levels, recreation gymnastics for all levels, gymnastics classes, tumbling classes, preschool programs, mommy and me programs and instruction for WPIAL high school independents.
“We’re looking to expand, actually,” Ruggeri said.
Ruggeri also has coached the Burrell gymnastics program for four years.
“We have a small team, but they enjoy the high school competition,” their coach said. “The girls enjoy getting the recognition at school for their sport.”
Ruggeri’s family includes a son, Brandon, 27, who played hockey in college, and two daughters, Raquel, 20, and Sophia, 18. Raquel, a sophomore at West Virginia, was a Burrell gymnast who won USAG state and regional championships. Sophia, also a gymnast, returned to competing this year for Ultimate.
Brandon played junior hockey in Wooster, Ohio for the Wooster Oilers, and served as team captain. He then went to Stevenson University in Maryland and played for four years. He also served as team captain there.
Brandon now is in a chiropractic masters program at Parker University in Dallas.
Ruggeri’s coaching philosophy for gymnastics entertains the concept of “giving back.”
“I want the girls to enjoy the sport, have fun but work hard, do well but also enjoy their childhood and teen years,” she said. “I’ve been successful with keeping young athletes involved and wanting to give back to the sport. Many of them return to coach or own a gym or support the younger kids.
“We’ve had senior athletes every year that we’ve been open since 2007. I think that is a huge accomplishment for a relatively small gym.”
Ruggeri’s favorite gymnast, by the way, is Nastia Liukin, a Russian-born American who is a five-time Olympic medalist and the 2008 Olympic all-around champion. Liukin also was a four-time all-around U.S. national champion, winning twice as a junior and twice as a senior.
“But in the beginning, of course, when I started it was the infamous Nadia Comaneci and her perfect 10s at the (1976 and 1980) Olympics,” Ruggeri said.
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