Louisiana high school gymnasts will compete for state championship individual and team honors in the gymnastics gym at Baton Rouge High on Friday and Saturday. Boys teams will square off Friday beginning at 1:30 p.m., and the girls competition begins at 9:40 a.m. Saturday.

Gymnasts represent the smallest contingent of athletes vying for any LHSAA championship, but according to BRHS coach and tournament director Kevin Nee, reaching the top of the medal stand in this sport is one of the most rigorous paths any athlete can take.

“Gymnastics embraces just about all the parameters of all-around physical fitness,” Nee said. “You’re talking about strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, agility, kinesthetic perception, speed, power-it’s all in there. It’s kind of like the decathlon in track.

“I’ve been told that we come awfully close to not fulfilling what the LHSAA requires (for championship competition), but by their grace they keep us in.”

Another distinctive aspect of high school gymnastics is that teams can compile points on different levels of difficulty. Boys compete in two divisions, while girls compete in three.

The more skilled gymnasts of Division I perform optional routines, while compulsory routines make up the routines in the lower divisions.

For this year’s championships, 33 boys will compete, 22 in Division II and 11 in Division I. Girls entrants include 63 in Division III, 41 in Division II and 31 in Division I for a total of 135.

Nee regards St. Paul’s of Covington as the heavy favorite on the boys side. The Wolves return brothers Brendan and Colin Skinner, who finished first and third in last year’s all-around competition, as well as Stevie VanZandt, last year’s Division II champion and Division II runner-up Brooks McMahan.

Other top boys Division I finishers from 2013 who are returning include Brandon Watts of St. Michael the Archangel and Kyle Carter of Barbe.

Baton Rouge High graduated top-10 finishers Sean Reliford and Patrick Thang and brings what Nee terms as his youngest team ever into the meet.

Saturday’s session for the girls should see some strong competition as 10 of last season’s top 18 return.

Last year’s all-around girls champion, Sydney Ewing, now competes for LSU, leaving the door open for 2013 runner-up Katie Hebert of Comeaux, fourth-place finisher Raleigh Patrick of Episcopal and sixth-place finisher Haley Dufresne of Lutcher to claim the title.

Episcopal leads all girls teams with six entries in Division I, the most of any team in the 35-year history of the meet.

“St. Joseph has also three in Division I, which is normally a good number,” Nee said. “Five schools have full girls teams which will give them a chance at the overall title: Baton Rouge High, Caddo, St. Joseph’s, Catholic of New Iberia and East Ascension.”

SJA has one top-15 finisher returning, No. 11 Delia Aroin. Dutchtown returns Samia Taylor (12th), Nicole Broussard (14th) and Nicole Chedville (16th) from last year’s team.

Only St. Paul’s, BRHS and Caddo have sufficient numbers to compete for the boys crown.

“St. Paul’s actually got their entry in late, but on paper they should run away with it,” Nee said.