GYMNASTICS in Here-ford is on the up again with the newly-formed Sparks club going from strength to strength, writes Richard Prime.

When the successful and long-established Harle-quins club closed its doors 18 months ago, it left a large void for gymnasts in the city.

But HALO stepped into the breach and sessions were arranged at Hereford Leisure Centre to try to cater for the large numbers of youngsters who enjoyed the sport.

HALO were, however, almost too successful for their own good.

"There were about 200 gymnasts taking part and when they reached a certain level, they just had nowhere to go," said Claire Griffin, Sparks' welfare officer.

"So with the help of HALO we decided to go for it and set up Sparks.

"We were given a January deadline by which time we had to be up and running and now we have 84 members, aged from five through to 18.

"It has taken over my whole life but it shows how much can be done in a short time."

While Claire Griffin and Susan Ross have shouldered much of the responsibility for running the club, there is a 12-strong committee of parents who oversee matters.

The club, who train at Hereford Leisure Centre, entered their first competition last month and, against top level gymnasts, returned a 16th, a sixth and a 21st place.

But the hard work had already begun to pay off when, at the West Midlands Championships at Highgate Sports Centre in Birmingham, two nine-year-olds, Fleur Bennetts and Katie Lloyd, gained a first and second place respectively.

"There was also a seventh place but all the other gymnasts competed to a sufficiently high standard to earn distinctions," said Claire Griffin.

"Afterwards all the people taking part were talking about the new club which had appeared in the West Midlands.

"We now have a competition squad of 32 gymnasts but all of the others are doing gymnastics at a high level.

"HALO have been wonderful with the support they have given, feeding people into the club whom they feel have potential and we are very optimistic for the future."