Penn Hills fitness team welcomes New York programs for competition

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Thursday, April 4, 2019 | 6:11 PM


In recent years, Penn Hills athletics has experienced many firsts. After winning WPIAL basketball and PIAA football titles, Penn Hills can celebrate another first on a slightly different scale.

The Penn Hills fitness program hosted its first competition in close to three decades in the Linton Middle School gym March 30.

The Indians competed against two schools from New York — South Bronx and Bethpage. The event included 75 competitors, boys and girls, from all three schools.

The participants competed in five events — crunches, pushups, standing long jump, pull-ups and 300-yard shuttle run.

The Penn Hills boys team finished in third place with a final score of 1,934. South Bronx won the boys title with a score of 2,316, while Bethpage, the defending national champion, finished with 1,969. Individually, Steve Salah finished third in the all-meet team.

On the girls side, Penn Hills finished behind Bethpage (1,569) with a final score 1,428. Individually, Amanda McCann finished second, while Claire McDivitt finished fifth in the all-meet team.

Jai Ransom finished with the longest standing long jump at 7 feet, 5.5 inches, while Erin Gaines won the 30-second jump rope.

“The guys and the girls did so good and are now enthused and ready to go. They didn’t know what a meet was like,” coach Bob Martini said.

“They have confidence and they believe in themselves. We’ve told them they are as good as any team out there.”

Originally, three more schools from Eastern Pennsylvania — Emmaus, Parkland and Upper Darby — were invited to compete at Penn Hills. However, because of scheduling conflicts, those schools didn’t compete.

After long discussions with coaches, Martini started to plan this competition close two months ago. As the early reviews roll in, Martini believes this competition can become an annual event once again.

Martini hopes to have the two schools from New York return next year, while adding the three schools from Eastern Pennsylvania and possibly more schools to the competition.

Several decades ago, Penn Hills hosted a similar annual competition. But, since many local schools closed their fitness programs the competition was halted. After seeing the competition, Martini said Penn Hills Marines recruiter Gunnery Sgt. Keith Johnson was looking to the possibility of reigniting interest in the program.

“You want the competition and all the good teams to come out because at the end of the year when we have the national competition in May, you want to know you had competitions and meets against the top in the country,” Martini said.

“Usually, the teams in Pennsylvania are the best in the country even against teams from California and Colorado. It only makes you better when you go against the better teams.”

The Indians are planning to travel to Bethpage, N.Y. on April 13 and South Bronx on April 27 to compete in similar competitions as they prepare for the National High School Physical Fitness Championships in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. in May.

Last year, the girls team finished fourth in the country, while the boys team finished in fifth place. McCann and Elisa Brennan finished in the top five individually in the girls competition, while Salah finished in the top 10 in the boys competition.

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