They never had previous experience with a pommel horse or high bar. Asked to do chin-ups in front of classmates in the Andover High School cafeteria, most were thinking "like that will ever happen!" And for many current members of the AHS boys gymnastics team playing basketball, baseball, football or hockey, was out of the question.
"Those kids play those sports for years before they get to high school. And we didn't," said co-captain Aghishah Sinha, 17, and an AHS senior. "No way could we do those sports."s
Yet, these guys wanted to get in shape, be on a team and do something during the winter high school sports season.
Now they have. And what started as a sort of "Bad News Bears" gymnastics team with no experience and no skills, has blossomed into the "Good News Gymnasts."
This weekend, the team will compete in the top state gymnastic competition, at Braintree High School.
AHS gymnast superstar Brian Manning is expected to get his usual high scores. He has put his team on the gymnastics map this season.
But, as any good coach will say, there's no "I" in team. Behind Andover's superstar gymnast is a story about one of the golden rules of team sports: never quit and support each other. Seven of Manning's teammates met with the Townsman to talk about competing on the squad. They are thrilled with Manning's success, as he aspires to compete in Div. 1 gymnastics in college. But, fellow team members will never be that good and that's fine with them.
They still practice on the bars, on the rings, on the floor mats and on the pummel horse until blisters bleed through the tape on their hands.
Every day after school, this team lugs equipment into the gym and practices for at least two hours. When squeezed out because other sports, like basketball, need their space, they practice in hallways.
"We've got to move out of the gym sometimes but that's OK. We move as a team," Sinha said.
Practice location may turn temporary but this team's spirit is permanent.
Why, they even support competitors, clapping loudly for boys on other school gymnast teams.
"Why not? A good performance is just that, no matter who you are," Sinha said.
As these gymnasts gear up for this weekend's state tournament, they reflected on getting together and becoming a team.
"I was sitting with some friends at school when I was asked to join the gymnastics team," recalled senior Jonah Adler, 18. "I had no skills, no experience.
"They told me not to worry about that, they would teach me. Now, I'm so glad I joined," Adler said.
His six teammates nodded in agreement. These super polite guys hang out, text each other a lot, eat together often and cheer for each other, regardless of scores.
"These guys asked me to check it (the team) out, they didn't ask anything else of me," said Cody Flaherty, 18, and an AHS senior.
Flaherty was a gymnast star at a local private club, but by the time he arrived in Andover after his family had moved, he said he felt a bit burned out.
"I wasn't sure if I wanted a team, but I checked out the AHS club," Flaherty said. "I felt freedom with them...it was a great bunch of guys."
Josh Martin, 16 and an AHS junior, was looking for a winter sports team to join. He's a competitive BMX rider, so staying in shape was his motivation.
"I was looking for something to do, to keep me in shape," Martin said. "I'm so glad now. It's been a challenge but way better than I ever thought." Wearing his designer black glasses, junior Isaac Diaz, 17, seems quiet and shy. When a friend recommended he join the team, he didn't know how he could.
"I never did any of this," he said.
Now, he's a floor and pummel horse competitor, who has seen his body become stronger than ever.
So has sophomore Brian McDonough, 15.
"I have learned new moves on the pummel horse and just gotten so much stronger," said the sophomore. "And, we all get so much support from each other."
As for those chin-up numbers, they are now "classified" information, according to co-captain Pat McDonough, 17, and an AHS senior.
"We raised over $1,000 for tsunami relief in Japan," he said, as students pledged money per chin-up at the event held in the AHS cafeteria.