Kayla Kennedy has been in love with the sport of gymnastics for nearly her entire life.
Ever since she attended a gymnastics-themed birthday party when she was in first grade, she and the sport have been pretty much inseparable. For the better part of the last eight years, Kennedy has trained four hours a day, five days a week in an attempt to achieve excellence on the balance bean, the uneven bars, the vault and the floor routine.
That doesn't mean there weren't some hard times for the York Catholic High School senior.
Kennedy's passion for the sport was severely tested around a year ago when a back injury forced her to the sidelines for three months. The rehabilitation from what was diagnosed as a stress fracture has been perhaps the most difficult ordeal Kennedy has endured.
If it wasn't for her friend, Kelsi Eberly, who provided much-needed motivation and support, Kennedy may have given up the sport for good.
Instead, Kennedy was nothing but smiles Monday evening when she signed her official letter of intent at Prestige Gymnastics in Lancaster to accept a partial scholarship to Temple University. She was joined at Monday's signing by her teammate at Prestige, Morgan Denlinger, who earned a scholarship to Bowling Green University.
"Originally Temple wasn't on my list," Kennedy said. "But their coach came in and watched me perform my gymnastics and he asked me to come out for a visit. So I went on a visit, and I'm not a city person, but I went there and I absolutely loved it. The girls were so nice. I fell in love with it as soon as I got there."
And to think that Monday's big occasion may never have happened if it weren't for Eberly, a 2011 graduate from Hempfield High School who trained with Kennedy at Prestige.
"Coming back from that big of an injury like that is hard," Kennedy said. "Gymnastics just wasn't in my heart anymore. I just didn't want to be there."
Enter Eberly, now a sophomore gymnast at the University of Illinois. The two met after Kennedy moved from Gymnastics of York to Prestige when Kennedy was in sixth grade.
"It was a time when I wanted to quit," said Kennedy, who also received offers from Lindenwood University and Southeast Missouri. "Kelsi just pushed me through everything. She kept me positive and helped me everyday with working through things. Without her help I would not be in the sport anymore."
After the injury Kennedy showed she hadn't missed a beat. This past year she was a state and regional qualifier, marking the fifth time she qualified at the state level and fourth time for regionals since 2009.
She also achieved her highest finish on the bars at regionals, where she placed second.
Other signees: Several other York-Adams League athletes signed national letters of intent this week to play sports at the college level next school year.
York Catholic's Sarah Gabriele (NCAA Division II Kutztown), Lindsay Givens (Division I La Salle) and Jessica Mazzur (D-I Saint Francis) will play college lacrosse. York Catholic senior Zaenna Echevarria previously committed to play women's basketball at NCAA Division I University of Maryland-Baltimore County and senior Erich Hartman will play baseball for D-I University of Kentucky.
The Shippensburg baseball program received commitments from Dover's Grant Hoover and Spring Grove's Nick Spangler and Dalton Hoiles. Last season, Hoover batted .441 with 30 hits, 11 RBIs, 14 runs scored and 16 stolen bases and had an on-base percentage of .479 for the Eagles. Spangler hit .429 with 27 hits, five doubles, three triples, 17 RBIs and 16 runs scored and had an on-base percentage of .561.
Susquehannock senior baseball player Sammy Miller has signed a letter of intent to play at NCAA Division I Longwood (Va.) University.
A pair of Susquehannock senior girls' basketball players will compete at the next level. Shannon Druck has committed to D-I College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, while teammate Makenzie Fancher will play at D-III Christopher Newport (Va.) University, which is a member of the Capital Athletic Conference along with York College.
Northeastern senior swimmer Niki Price is headed to Penn State and senior girls' volleyball player Madison Reichard is headed to D-II East Stroudsburg.