The cooperative varsity interscholastic gymnastics program shared by Bedford and Wilmington High Schools has quickly blossomed for the specialized athletes participating.
The sport is in its second year; its debut was a resounding success. The 2021-22 team placed second in the sectionals and third in the state meet. Four participants – two from Bedford High, two from Wilmington – qualified for the state individual tournament.
Both schools had been exploring starting a team, and last year the cooperative venture was sealed. Wilmington is the primary partner; the squad plays a Middlesex League schedule.
“Neither one could really stand alone,” Coach Kristen Hannon said. Last season the combined roster was 19. There are 13 this season, including six seniors, because athletes who graduated or did not return outnumbered the newcomers.
The athletes’ next meet is Wednesday evening vs. Arlington, weather permitting (Monday’s scheduled contest at Woburn was postponed as trucks took to the snowy streets with plows and salt
.). Next week on Tuesday, there’s a meet scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Burlington High School.
Gymnastics isn’t a casual sport.
“You can’t just say, ‘I think I’ll compete,’” Hannon said. “You have to be training outside of high school. This sport is specialized; you have to train multiple hours, days, years to be successful, even at the high school level.”
Still, it’s about quality.
“Some teams have large programs but they don’t necessarily have kids who train outside of the school,” Hannon said. “You can have a large team, but the way the structure of competition is, you can have two kids who dominate four events.”
Each competition consists of vault, bars, beam, and floor, the coach explained.
Hannon said Mikayla Comeiro, one of the team’s senior captains, participants in the bar, beam, and floor, and has the skills to vault as well.
“She is one of the higher level athletes on the team,” the coach said, noting that in 2022 Comeiro qualified for the state individual tournament’s floor competition.
Senior Brooke Stuzynski, picking up points in bar, beam, and vault, “has been doing gymnastics since she was little,” and also is a soccer player, the coach said.
The other Bedford senior is Selima Chan, active in the sport since age seven. “I coached her at two gyms,” said Hannon, noting that Chan recently received her pilot’s license.
Junior Katie Desaulniers competes in beam, floor, and vault, the coach said, and her classmate, newcomer Addie Silva, has been planning to do vault along with beam or floor.
The other Bedford competitors are freshmen: Lexie Masters, an all-around gymnast, and Maddie Plurad, who also can excel in any event.
The team practices for two hours a day at GymStreet USA in Wilmington, where Hannon has worked as a gymnastics coach for more than six years.
“The high school team is very fortunate to be able to use the equipment as a home gym. The schools otherwise would need to front the money for the equipment. That’s not optimal – it’s better to train in an actual gymnastics gym,” she said.
The coach added, “A higher level of coaching typically goes with the gym. These kids are in a safer environment. The equipment is always being maintained.”
Although this is her first high school position, Hannon has been coaching gymnastics for more than 20 years, including at the collegiate level.
Her assistant coach is another experienced gymnast, Brooke Claroni. “When I had the chance to coach in the
n high school I jumped on it – I knew so many of the kids,” Hannon said.
“This sport requires mental and physical preparation and a sense of no fear – a beam four inches wide and four feet off the ground can be scary when you’re doing a flip,” the coach said. “There are times when your foot slips or you land on the mat. So you take a breather, get a drink, get back up and do it again.”
Excellence doesn’t come overnight.
“You cry because you’re frustrated. You can’t seem to get the skill the way you want it,” Hannon said. “It takes time – sometimes years. And there’s a short shelf life with the wear and tear on the body. Most gymnasts quit before high school.”
She also observed that participants “learn time management at a very young age. Sometimes you give up socialization with your friends – practices can range from three to five hours a day, so that does not leave much flexibility.”
“We are very appreciative as a school community to be able to participate in this relationship with Wilmington,” said BHS Director of Athletics Keith Mangan. “The team was very successful last year as a first year program under Coach Hannon’s guidance and we hope they continue that success for years to come.”