High School Sports

Valley Stream gymnasts set the bar high


While the Valley Stream Central High School District gymnastics team is only in its fourth year of existence, it’s certainly gaining some notoriety after posting a regular season record of 5-4 that included a new team-high score at a meet in January.

Melissa Valentino is in her first year as coach of the team after previously coaching in California and Connecticut, dating back to 2002, and said her team’s dedication in practice paid big dividends and yielded positive results.

One of the team’s three co-captains, Jessica Betts, a senior from North High School, qualified for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Girls Gymnastic Championship after she placed fourth on the vault during an invitational. According to Valentino, Betts is one of 11 girls, out of 300 from Nassau County, to qualify for the state championships, which will take place on March 2 in Smithtown.

“Jessica is very patient and she’s a perfectionist in an amazing way,” Valentino said. “She works very hard to make her skills perfect and it shows in her routines and everything she does.”

Betts started practicing gymnastics when she was 3 and currently works out at Five Star Gymnastics in East Rockaway, in addition to her work with the district team. “It’s very exciting,” she said of qualifying for the state championship. “I was definitely shocked to get it and I’m just very happy in what I accomplished.”

There is one gymnastics team for all four district schools, although this year there are no girls from South High on the team. The team’s home gym is at Oceanside High School. Each day after school, the girls boarded a bus at 5 p.m. to Oceanside and returned to Valley Stream around 8 p.m. Valentino said the practice schedule required a lot of commitment from her gymnasts and their parents.

Another success story from this year’s team was Imani Williams, a freshman at North, who took first place in the all-around competition at last week’s Nassau County Conference II invitational.

“Imani is an amazingly hard-working young lady who is pretty much fearless,” Valentino said. “She’s ready to try anything and is ready to work really hard at new tricks or skills because she wants to excel. It’s exciting to know that she’ll be on our team for three more years.”

Valley Stream also saw a great performance from Central High School senior Desiree Chase at the Conference II invitational. Chase, a co-captain, finished in the top 10 in the vault competition.

She joined the team when it started four years ago and said she always wanted to do gymnastics as a child, but couldn’t find a place to practice until the district created a team. “We’re like a family,” she said of her teammates. “We share everything. It works as if we were all from the same school.”

At a meet in Roslyn last month, Valentino found a way to respect her girls more than ever before. After winning the meet and setting a team-high record of 135.85 points, the girls didn’t celebrate their accomplishment right away. Showing good sportsmanship, they waited until they got on the bus home to celebrate so they weren’t disrespectful to their opponents. Valentino said she didn’t ask the girls to hold their celebratory screams; it was something they thought to do on their own.

“All these girls were so hardworking, respectful and such great teammates to each other,” Valentino said, “that they realized for us to be successful, we had to work together.”