Beckhardt vaults into Stanford with gymnastics

Brandon Beckhardt in an undated, handout photo.

Brandon Beckhardt in an undated, handout photo. (Credit: Handout)

Brandon Beckhardt has committed to Stanford University and, at 17, already has more awards than he knows what to do with. The recently acquired medals get slung over an old guitar stand in his room.

This season alone, the Half Hollow Hills East senior won the New York Championships, World Cup Challenge, West Point Open and Greater New York Invitational. He also was one of 18 boys in the country to qualify for the Visa Championships this week in St. Louis.

Funny enough, the sport that allowed him to attain those accolades was one that got him teased relentlessly as a kid.

Beckhardt is a gymnast.

"I used to get made fun of a lot for it," he said. "I was in fourth grade, so it bothered me to the point where I sometimes thought about quitting . . . People saying it's a girls sport."

At the scholastic level in New York, most of the sports' athletes are girls. There hasn't been a high school boys gymnastics team on Long Island in "close to 10 years," Long Beach girls gymnastics coach Bill Muirhead said. Beckhardt, since age 6, has been involved in the club gymnastics circuit. The Melville native trains at Hotshots in Plainview and has competed in tournaments around the country.

Muirhead coached the Long Beach boys team from 1984-92, but boys gymnastics began to fizzle locally in the late '80s, he said. Nassau did away with its league in 1989, though Long Beach's program remained and competed against Suffolk teams until 1992. Suffolk's league dwindled until folding in the early 2000s.

Budget cuts, a shortage of qualified coaches and the sport's expenses hurt its popularity, said Kim Rhatigan, Bethpage girls coach and Nassau gymnastics coordinator. "And let's face it, boys are more easily drawn to contact sports."

Although the events and routines differ in boys and girls gymnastics, Muirhead said the perception of it as a feminine sport "caused a lot of boys to shy away from it."

Beckhardt stuck with it. And the teasing eventually stopped once he began to develop a muscular 5-7, 160-pound frame, he said.

He got into gymnastics at 5 when he accompanied his mother, Stacey Beckhardt, as she was signing up his younger sister, Jacqueline, for classes. Beckhardt "thought acrobatics looked cool," and his mother finally had found an activity in which he could expend the energy that basketball and karate hadn't drained.

Cristian Leric, his coach at Hotshots and a 1996 Olympian for Romania, said Beckhardt showed potential almost immediately and his skills quickly developed. Beckhardt, Leric said, excels on the rings and floor exercise, and recently mastered an Arabian double layout (a twisting double front flip, which is as difficult as it sounds).

"It's taken a lot of time and dedication," said Beckhardt, who trains five days a week. He is also an academic All-American. "There are so many things I've wanted to do -- vacations, hanging out with friends -- that I sacrificed for gymnastics."

Injuries, too, are one of the sports' drawbacks. Beckhardt withdrew from the Visa Championships with a grade II left ankle sprain suffered during a workout last week.

"It's extremely disappointing," said Beckhardt, who won't compete until January when the Stanford men's gymnastics season begins. "But it could be worse, so I can't get too down about it."

After all . . . "Gymnastics has helped me get into Stanford, and I think people respect that," he said. "Some of my friends wish they'd gotten into gymnastics."

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