Band of brothers

MELISSA YERKOV / WIRE PHOTO
Xavier and Nikolas Cruz practice on the parallel bars at the Bensalem Gymnastics Club.

By Mike Gibson

For the Wire

To say Hurricane Sandy delivered a knockout blow to the Bensalem Gymnastics Club might be an overstatement, but the storm certainly staggered it.

Sandy didn’t blow the house down, but the roof was torn clear off and the floor was flooded.

Since then, the club has gotten off the mat and produced three champions.

The night of Oct. 29 was a rough one for the building on Bridgewater Road in Bensalem Township, according to club director Tony Valdez.

“The day after, I looked into the front window and there was water inside. I didn’t want to go in there,” he said. “The whole roof was blown off and the whole front was destroyed.”

What happened after that was a slow and steady building process. The club eventually got around to putting the roof on and getting on to the business of both facilitating and celebrating the achievements of young people.

The roof was replaced in January but it wasn’t until March 16 that the club had something big to celebrate as the Cruz brothers, Xavier and Nikolas, finished first in the state championships at the Lehigh Valley Sports Academy in Allentown.

Xavier won in the 11-to-12-year-old level 4 category, while Nikolas, won in the in 8-year-old age group.

The club also had a winner in the 7-year-old level 4 competition, Rylee Haer, who won in the uneven bars.

Not bad for a club that was closed from Oct. 30 until the middle of January.

“We had to go to another gym and practice,” said Tina Cruz, the mother of the Cruz boys and a chemistry teacher at Calvary Christian High School in Northeast Philadelphia. “We had to wait for the rugs and everything and he (Valdez) had to rebuild the floors.

“We went to the American Gym in Montgomeryville and one of the coaches came along every day with us,” she said.

The coaching must have been a crash course because both of the Cruz boys, from Fox Chase, never competed in gymnastics until September.

“I would like to say it’s good coaching, but they had good talent, too,” said Nate Campbell, one of the two coaches. “From the first day they came in, you could see that they had plenty of ability.

“You’ve got to be a good athlete to do this and they both had good athletic instincts from the beginning.”

From there, it was all work, interrupted by a once-in-a-lifetime storm.

“It’s about three days a week, nine hours, for that level,” Campbell said. “One of our other coaches, Dylan Henry, would go with them to the other gym until our gym was ready and then they’d come back to our gym to get ready for the states.

“Once you get up to the higher levels, it’s much more of a time investment. I would say as they get closer to the high school level, it’s going to be pretty much of an every-day time investment.”

Both the Cruz boys were entered in the all-around competition where they had to compete in all six events — vault, rings, high bar, parallel bars, floor and pommel horse. Scores are added up for all of those events, with the top three getting medals.

Since the Cruz boys earned first place, they brought home the gold.

They had extra incentive this year, according to their mother.

“They wanted to win it for [Valdez],” she said. “They wanted to win it for him. He’s been through a lot with the roof coming off and the club closed for six weeks. Yet, he saw something in them and they wanted to prove to him that they were good enough, and they were. I’m one proud Momma.”

Valdez is proud of the boys, too.

“They stayed with us, but some of the others went onto other coaches, so what they did made us pretty proud,” he said. “When they finished first, I cried.”

Valdez is the director of the club, but rents the building.

“After I looked in the window and didn’t want to go in, I walked to the far side,” Valdez said. “All of the (roof) material was there on the ground. The wind blew it the other way.

“I talked to the mailman and he said none of the other buildings suffered as much damage as ours. It’s been a long three months to put it back together.

“We lost about half of our students. We had more than 200 in the Bensalem Gymnastics Club and we went down to about 100, and now it’s about 130. We got a lot of new students from the time we put the roof back, but we want to build it up back to where it was.”

Valdez could have added both with building material and human resources.

“The roof is back on and it looks beautiful,” Valdez said.

As far as the Cruz brothers go, there is no ceiling on their potential, according to Campbell.

“They could probably go all the way through college with if they put the time in,” he said.