Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 15, 2013

Letter: MIAA wrong on gymnastics vote

The Andover Townsman

---- — Editor, Townsman:

Thank you for your editorial in the Jan. 31, 2013 issue of the Townsman, “No dismount wanted for boys gymnastics.” I, too, truly believe that the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has misplaced its better judgement in deciding to end recognized competition among high schools that have boys gymnastic teams. As one who enthusiastically participated on the Punchard High School gymnastic team a little over 60 years ago under the guidance of Donald Dunn, it certainly pulls the rug out from under the support and guidance that Mr. Dunn initiated and created by his dedication to the sport, which has grown and proliferated since his employment by the town.

I think it interesting to note that Mr. Dunn was hired by the School Committee in 1936 as director of physical education and basketball coach. My introduction to Mr. Dunn was when I was 10 years old, in 1941 and in the fourth grade at the West Center school, now long removed, but formerly at the intersection of Beacon Street and Route 133. After a loud knock on the classroom door, in barged Mr. Dunn, a volleyball in hand, which he vigorously sailed across the room, it landing in the aisle that separated the third grade from the fourth (two classes in the same room). I remember jumping out of my seat, along with several others, to retrieve the ball. It was at that moment that I took a liking to this guy, to whom all of us students were so indebted for being able to play volleyball thereafter during the daily recess. I also will not forget the expression of bewilderment on the face of our teacher, Mrs. Hilton, who accepted the whole commotion in stride.

It was not until I reached age 13 in 1944 (World War II time) that I was in the seventh grade and qualified on a limited basis to use the high school gymnasium of which Mr. Dunn was in charge. There was more indoor volleyball and, of course, an introduction to basketball and physical exercises. Never will I forget when one fellow classmate grumbled that Mr. Dunn was having us boys do repeat exercises that even he (Mr. Dunn) would not do himself. Unfortunately for my classmate, Mr. Dunn overheard the student’s remarks and immediately suggested that the two of them, student and teacher, do leg raises from the floor. With the entire boys class gathered round as witnesses, we counted Mr. Dunn as he did 100 floor leg raises, all in perfect form, the student having terminated his efforts long before. Message: don’t mess around with Mr. Dunn, and, no, he will not ask you to do anything that he would not do himself!

Grades 10 through 12 were when my enthusiasm for gymnastics expanded and more time was devoted to my interests on the rings and high bar. Mr. Dunn was always there when you needed him for encouragement and guidance, but never permitted any student to attempt feats outside of his abilities.

Gymnastics is one sport where emphasis is placed on the individual and one’s individual performance. Each year we would put on a performance at the High School gymnasium before a packed audience in the Memorial Auditorium. One year we welcomed the Springfield College gymnastic team to perform with and for us. It is no wonder that the town of Andover voted to name the new high school gymnasium the Dunn Gymnasium in honor of Mr. Dunn’s contributions and lifetime devotion as Director of Physical Education and instructor of boys gymnastics.

I feel that the MIAA is doing a disservice to the town of Andover and all communities that support boys gymnastics. If gymnastics are good enough to be performed in the Olympics, they are good enough to be introduced at the high school level and offer such participants the rewards inherent with accomplishment and growth.

Russell G. Doyle

Punchard High Class 1949

Peabody, Mass. and Fort Myers, Fla.