Mark Weber and his assistants at Docksiders of Millersville spend nearly as much time marketing their gymnasts as they do instructing them.
The staff's hard work and salesmanship recently paid off for two of its Level 9 gymnasts, as Caryn Sanders and Amy Ehle received full athletic scholarships.
Sanders, a Crownsville resident and graduate of Old Mill High, will take her acrobatics to the University of Illinois at Chicago. Ehle, a Columbia native, will enjoy a free ride to the University of New Hampshire.
"It's a big, long process, but it's well worth it," said Weber, who packages a 10- to 15-minute video highlight of each of his college-bound gymnasts and sends them to various colleges for review.
"We try to highlight their skills, and we give the girls a chance to present themselves in a favorable manner. It's time-consuming and it's extra work for us, but it's good for the kids. With all the technology and media now available, you have to be able to present your talent to college scouts."
In Weber's eight years at the privately owned school, he has seen 17 of his gymnasts move on free of charge to renowned programs at Brigham Young, Duke, Georgia and Oklahoma State universities. But more impressively, most of Weber's students have gone on to excel at the collegiate level.
"A lot of coaches feel that they shouldn't get any better once they leave you, but I figure if they get better, then we've done something right to prepare them," said Weber, who also serves as an assistant gymnastics coach at Towson State University.
"I love to see them improve. The better they do, the better reputation we develop."
It was that reputation that attracted Ehle to the program in June of last year. After dislocating her elbow during a competition and losing her coach at Fair Lands of Beltsville, Ehle came to Docksiders. It was there that the 18-year-old Howard High graduate staged her comeback.
"She had a lot ofpotential and a lot of good basics when she came to us, but she didn't have any of the big skills," said Weber. "We worked on getting herhead back in it after being out for two years, and she's done an unbelievable job.
"The thought of a college scholarship when she cameto us was kind of remote, but she did a great job."
Ehle was pleased with her recovery and attributed her success to the support of her coaches and teammates at Docksiders.
"The girls on the team and the coaches gave me a chance to start fresh, and I needed the change," Ehle said. "It was frustrating because I wasn't really sure whetheror not I wanted to try and come back from my injury. Then I realizedthat I only had one year and I could try it and if it didn't work out, I could try something else."
Weber was equally pleased with Ehle's decision to compete for Docksiders, adding that the team benefited as much from her as she did from the team.
"Her personality typeis such a great one that it helped our whole team," he said. "She provided something for us that we didn't have. We didn't have a real strong leader on our team.
"We basically had a lot of young kids on the team, and she provided us with a leader that the kids could follow.
"What we provided her with was a whole team that would support her and help her progress and move on."
Ehle's return to the sportincluded a third-place finish at the U.S. Association of IndependentGymnastics Club state match in March and a ninth-place showing in a regional competition.
Sanders decided to sit out club competition this season, instead competing for Old Mill because she felt she owedsomething to her school.
She started her senior campaign on an upnote, placing first in bars, beam and vault at the Patriot Invitational. Her success carried over to the county meet, where she tied for first with Meade's Mollie Bell in all-around.
A fall on the balance beam in the state meet forced her to settle for a sixth-place finish overall, but proved good enough to qualify her for the National High School Coaches Association National Championships at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she took fifth in vault.
Although she was happy with her senior year, Sanders realizes it was her performance the previous year that drew the attention of college scouts.
"It always helps you to have a very good junior year of competition," said Sanders, who has been with Docksiders for 11 years. "When colleges look at you for scholarships, they rely on yourjunior year."
Sanders' junior year was a good one, as she earned a USAIGC No. 4 all-around ranking and a No. 2 national ranking on theuneven bars. That same year, she qualified for the United States Gymnastics Federation regional team and attended the Eastern championships.
Although the thought of earning a scholarship was not foremoston her mind, Sanders and her Docksiders coach were confident that the long hours would one day pay off.
"Once she realized she was good enough to compete for a scholarship, that was one of her major goals," said Weber, who describes Sanders as a veteran with the ability to "lighten up a situation and keep it relaxed."
Sanders said she has the utmost respect for all the coaches at Docksiders.
"The coaching here at Docksiders is innovative," she said. "Mark and Linda (Johnson) are always coming up with the new skills and something different that not many people do. Our routines here are phenomenal, especially the floor routine.
"You can always tell our routines apart from others. Mark's technical skill is superb. I think his level of coaching is what has brought Docksiders to the nationals and made them among the best."