---- — The top male gymnast at Andover High School is mulling over college acceptance letters from Ohio State and Penn State universities.
AHS senior Brian Manning, one of the top gymnasts in New England, will continue gymnastics in college, said his coach Steve Sirois.
But Manning’s high school, where he mastered his skills, is being forced to eliminate its boys gymnastics team. That’s because the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Board of Directors just voted to eliminate boys gymnastics as an MIAA sport. This winter will be the final season in which boys gymnastics will be an MIAA-sponsored sport. Male gymnasts across the state will have to compete on girls teams at their high schools or join a private gymnastics club.
Seven high schools with all-boys gymnastic teams are affected, including Andover. The other high schools are Attleboro, Braintree, Burlington, Lowell, Newton North and Newton South.
“To not recognize us, to break ties … it’s just crazy,” said Sirois, who has been the AHS boys gymnastics coach for 32 years.
He said the sport is actually growing and he points to Methuen where two boys are currently on the girls gymnastics team and officials there want to start a gymnastics team for boys.
Sirois said the elimination vote occurred when the representative for the seven high schools was in the hospital and could not attend the meeting. The MIAA Board of Directors voted anyway leaving Sirois and his team shattered.
Sirois said the reason for the elimination vote comes down to a rule book. The National Federation of State High School Associations announced in April that it would no longer be writing national rules for boys gymnastics and the MIAA vote was cast as a result, Sirois said.
“That’s what this is about - one page in the book of rules. You shouldn’t shun 160 to 200 gymnasts at seven high schools because of one page,” he said. “We can write our own rules.”
Sirois said Andover has a long history with boy gymnastics teams. The teams started in the 1930s. Today, the team has 10 gymnasts and their record is 6-1.
Team members were not happy to hear of MIAA’s vote to eliminate boys gymnastics as a varsity sport starting next year.
“It’s a shame because we have a lot of young guys who are really good,” said team member Josh Martin.
Martin played lacrosse and soccer before turning to gymnastics. He competes in the rings and on the parallel bars.
“I feel like I push myself mentally more in gymnastics. I can’t say how or why,” said Martin, “it’s just how it is.”
Junior Brian McDonough likes the cross-section of ages on the team. There’s no freshman or junior varsity boys gymnastic team. There’s just one team for all four grades at AHS.
“I like that. You see your teammates in the hallways and we all say hello,” McDonough said.
McDonough also likes how teams root for all the athletes.
“We all cheer for each other...even for competitors. I like that, too,” McDonough said.
The team is certainly not cheering for the MIAA vote. Sirois and his team are writing letters to the MIAA to protest its vote and trying to get support for the team. Sirois said representatives from all seven high schools hope that MIAA changes its mind.
“So many gymnasts and their parents say the sport has changed them in a positive way. Leadership skills, self confidence are learned on these mats,” Sirois said. “We should hold onto a program that produces so many positive male role models.”
Leadership skills, self confidence are learned on these mats. We should hold onto a program that produces so many positive male role models. Coach Steve Sirois