---- — The Andover High School boys varsity gymnastics team celebrated its first state championship in 43 years last Friday night.
But it was a bittersweet grand finale as the victory came while the team said goodbye to being a varsity sport at AHS.
“We wanted to make this count,” said Andover High gymnast Evan Igoe, 15 and a sophomore who placed fourth in the all-around competition at the state final. “We really wanted this, especially for our coach.
‘We practiced routines over and over for the past few months, until it was perfect,” Igoe said.
In January, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association voted to cut boys gymnastics at seven high schools in the state, including AHS. Just 221 boys take part at those seven high schools and the MIAA says that’s not enough. The MIAA is the state’s overseer of high school sports.
Longtime gymnastics coach Steve Sirois said Igoe and his teammates were gracious winners and they beat Lowell High School by 15 points for the top prize. Brian Manning led the way, winning every individual event (see story in Sports, page 13). AHS teammates did not ever look at the scoreboard, choosing instead to focus on routine perfection and a team win. They did it.
In true Warrior style, the winning team was escorted by five police cars as they returned to Andover from Braintree last Friday night, Feb. 15, just after 11.
Sirois said the AHS boys gymnastics team last won the state championship in 1970. That was 43 years ago and Sirois was a freshman on that team, a ninth-grader at West Junior High when the high school still only had three grades.
“I was at West Junior High and we had JV and varsity boys gymnastics teams. We had 60 kids,” he said. “It was big back then.”
Today, there are 10 boys on the Andover High team.
Friday was not a complete goodbye to the sport for the underclassmen as Sirois said AHS boys gymnastics will continue. The team will join the Gymnastics Federation and meets will happen next year. The difference is that boys gymnastics will not be regulated by the MIAA, like other high school sports.
“But, we are getting so much support around town and it’s great,” Sirois said. “This is an important sport, so AHS will have it, just not with MIAA support.”
The MIAA’s next meeting is Thursday, March 7 and Sirois said coaches from those seven high schools will attend. An MIAA spokesman has told the Townsman it is unlikely to change its decision.
Evan’s father, Dan Igoe, was a captain on the team in 1983. Now a police officer in Andover, he said winning the state title is fitting. The boys worked hard. But he is sorry to see the sport no longer recognized, he said.
“It’s a sad day for Andover High,” Dan Igoe said. “A program like gymnastics, a program outside the classroom, is so important for character building, socializing...just a sad day.”
Evan Igoe is not sure if he will play on a school team run by the Gymnastics Federation. Like most team members, he’s still enjoying the big win, even if it is a bit bittersweet.