When Dominic Boardley and Jason Hill joined the gymnastics team as 10th-graders at Annapolis, neither had any grand illusions.
Boardley, an honor roll student, simply wanted to try something new, while Hill, a transfer student from South River, was looking for a new start.
"My parents separated and I was doing drugs and drinking," said Hill, 18. "I was basically taking advantage of the situation. Gymnastics helped me fight off the temptation for drugs and alcohol and it basically brought me back to the right side of the road."
At 5 p.m. today, the duo will show just how far they've come when they lead the Panthers in their defense of the county boys title at Chesapeake. Unfortunately, neither will be at full strength, with Boardley still recovering from a strained deltoid muscle and Hill nursing a stress fracture in his wrist.
No matter how they fare in the postseason, the two will always be viewed as winners in the game of life, said Annapolis sixth-year coach Neill Russell.
"When they came to me in the 10th grade I really didn't think they would develop into the top gymnasts in Maryland," Russell said. "They came from someone who couldn't do a front or back flip and ended up as two of the state's most consistent performers.
"I think it was the discipline that Jason learned through gymnastics that turned his life around. He was failing out of school at the time and now he's taking seven classes a day and forfeiting his lunch period. But without Dominic, Jason would not be the No. 1 gymnast in Maryland."
Hill echoed that statement. "I look up to Dominic. He's the perfect student, a great gymnast and he goes to church every Sunday. He's been an inspiration for me and he's helped me get my life back on track."
In his spare time, Hill has committed himself to the Drug-Free Annapolis campaign and is doing everything in his power to steer others away from drugs and alcohol. Gone are the days when Hill spent his weekends "partying with the boys." Most of his Friday and Saturday nights now are spent training at Barlow's Gym in Annapolis, where he works part time as coach of the developmental boys team.
Boardley, who hasn't competed this season because of his shoulder injury, laughs at the notion that he's been an inspiration to his teammate, but quickly adds that Hill has had a similar influence on his life.
"We kind of inspire each other," said Boardley, who qualified along with Hill for the U.S. High School National Championships later this month at the University of Maryland at College Park. "Jason and I are real close and I've seen him make big improvements in gymnastics and in real life. His views on life have turned around and he views everything more positively."
That positive attitude has paid high dividends for the 5-foot-4, 135-pounder. Hill has not lost an all-around competition in the four regular-season meets this season and he has faced every gymnast in the county -- except Boardley.
Last year, Hill captured first in the state on pommel horse, but was forced out of the all-around competition by an ankle injury. In the county meet, his score of 9.1 on the pommel horse was the highest score recorded by a male in state history.
Boardley expects to compete on the high bar today because that event puts the least amount of stress on his injury. He may compete on the pommel horse.
"I'm taking it day by day," said Boardley, who finished second all-around, second on parallel bars and pommel horse, and third on rings at last year's county meet.
Injuries and frustration are common in gymnastics, but as Russell will attest, Boardley and Hill are anything but ordinary.
"I'll miss them a lot [when they graduate]," said Russell, who was chosen as the Anne Arundel County Sun's Boys Gymnastics Coach of the Year last season after guiding the Panthers from last to first in the county. "It's these types of kids that have kept me going and motivated in gymnastics."