The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has decided to end recognized competition among high schools that have boys gymnastics teams. The decision will force the boys varsity teams to be only club teams next year, or for boys to join girls varsity teams, according to those involved. It’s a decision that seems to have nothing to do with the kids who participate, and everything to do with eliminating a bit of paperwork for state-level officials. It’s a decision that should be reversed.
Andover is one of the seven Massachusetts towns that offers a boys varsity gymnastics team. In fact, our program dates back to the Big Band Era. Steve Sirois, the Andover High boys varsity gym coach for three decades, could tell countless stories about what the team has meant to athletes over the years.
For a standout like Andover High’s Brian Manning, the program has allowed him to be recruited by big name schools such as Penn State and Ohio State. For most members, of course, the program is a place where they can learn focus, and enjoy the company of friends. Like any after-school activity, gymnastics can be the thing that makes high school special for certain teenagers. It can be the reason a struggling student keeps coming to school, or the way a transplant to town meets a solid close-knit group of friends. It can teach kids a lot about themselves while they think they are learning about something like how to dismount the rings.
It would be one thing -- not the right reason, but a practical one -- if the team had to be eliminated because of financial issues. We’d all love to offer kids every opportunity possible, but sometimes budgets are tight. Tough decisions have to be made, and programs with limited followings get cut. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. Several Massachusetts communities with long-standing boys gymnastics programs, including Andover, want to see the sport continue as is. Their school systems and taxpayers are offering full support for the teams.