Her younger teammates call her “mother duck,” but Beth Brown doesn’t seem to mind. At 16, the Lake Highlands sophomore already is one of the elder gymnasts on her club team. So far, she’s earned high marks and praise in this unique sport, where girls often reach their peak before they can drive a car.

For Brown, gymnastics have been an integral part of her life since a neighborhood babysitter piqued her interest almost 12 years ago. It wasn’t long before her parents enrolled her in Metroplex Gymnastics, right down the street from her house in Lake Highlands. There, she quickly learned the basics and established friendships.

“We train so hard and so long together, that you become very close to your friends on the team,” Brown says. “We have a lot of fun, and yet we’re very competitive. You don’t want to let the other girls get too far ahead of you.”

For nearly 12 years, the 4-foot, 11-inch brunette has put in more than 20 hours weekly refining her skills on the four events that comprise women’s gymnastic competition: floor, vault, beam and her personal favorite, the uneven parallel bars. A typical workout consists of stretching, running, and drills for individual events.

Last summer, Brown discovered her local coach, Martin Parsley, was leaving for Tyler. At that point, Brown had to decide whether she wanted to keep pursuing gymnastics.

“Coach Parsley and I had a serious talk about my future, and he helped build my confidence level before he left,” Brown says. “He told me that I should stick with it, and that I could still improve if I kept working hard. That really meant a lot to me. I decided there were still other goals that I hadn’t reached yet.”

Brown’s balancing act covers competing at the high school level for the Wildcats under coach Denise Coates and for the more competitive Trevino’s gym in Lancaster. Unlike most sports at this age, many of the state’s most accomplished gymnasts concentrate on competing with club teams, where training and meets are pressure-packed.

But this year Brown found the time to compete for her high school varsity team, where she recently took overall first places at the Richardson Invitational and the Lakeview Cup. As a matter of fact, she won all five high school meets she entered this year.

Last year, Brown had an unforgettable season for her club team. While competing against other girls from Texas on level nine, she grabbed the gold medal in Austin. Later, she placed ninth in the regional meet in Colorado. In a few weeks Brown will once again travel to Austin in the hopes of a repeat performance.

Coates, a former gymnast at Penn State, says her sophomore sensation is one of the finest gymnasts in her 16 years at Lake Highlands.

“Beth is very consistent and clean in every event,” Coates says. “Right now, she’s trying to improve the difficulty of her routines. I think that she has a great chance to earn a college scholarship in a few years.”

A college scholarship is just one of the goals on Brown’s list. Her next goal is attaining the elite level, a plateau reached by only a few of the country’s most accomplished gymnasts. To reach that next level, she’ll have to master a few new tricks and practice with her trademark determination.

Off the mat, the 16-year-old consistently brings home high marks on her report card and especially enjoys science and math. She studies in the car on her way to and from Lancaster every afternoon and rarely has time to watch television, except, of course, a special event such as the 1992 Summer Olympics.

“I love watching the gymnasts in Olympic competition,” she says with a smile. “Shannon Miller is my favorite gymnast now, but I also admire Olga Korbut for not being afraid to try new things. Watching those old films can still teach you a lot.”

Brown collects stuffed animals when she’s not perfecting what she calls her “air awareness” in the gym. Some of her more difficult air maneuvers are a double flip from the floor and a “tcochev” on the bars. She also enjoys an occasional fishing trip with her father.

Some of her more notable accomplishments include a 36.95 overall club score, where the judging is considered strict, and a scintillating 9.9 mark at a high school meet recently on the bars.

Sacrifice? Burnout? Yes, Brown admits to those feelings from time to time, but feels that it’s worth the effort. “I’ve travelled to Germany and all over the country with my friends,” she says. “When you perform well, or learn a new trick, all that hard work pays off.”