Boys gymnastics team prepares for winter season

by Joyce Lee, Sports Editor
photo contributed by Adrian Michael

Among South’s most venerable teams stands boys gymnastics, a close-knit community consisting of student-athletes from North and South.

Every day after school from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., South athletes travel to North’s field house, where they practice new skills on floor, vault, pommel horse, rings, parallel bars and high bar events. The program’s two head coaches, Rani Jacobson and Tom Steeves (manning the North and South sides, respectively), work together to run the singular varsity team. 

Jacobson, a ’10 North alumna, has a wealth of experience in the sport from her days competing during her high school and college careers to now, a seasoned coach for both school and club gymnastics. 

She said that North and South students are fortunate to have the opportunity to compete for their high schools, considering that in 2013, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association almost eliminated the high school boys gymnastics program. At the time, North and South were among seven Massachusetts high schools with boys gymnastics teams.

“I made sure that [the boys] tried out for the team over the last few years because I thought it was important to continue high school gymnastics and the tradition,” Jacobson said. “There’s something different that you get out of being on a high school team than you do on a club team.” 

The North-South team doesn’t just keep this tradition alive — they excel in every facet of performance and sportsmanship, and displayed these characteristics through last season’s virtual meets. Jacobson said that while the team’s dedication to the sport didn’t falter through an online year, she is looking forward to in-person competitions this winter. 

“The atmosphere’s always electric, and it’s good to have all the competitors in one location and really see that camaraderie amongst the competitors, the coaches and everyone who shows up,” she said.

In addition to the regular meets when North-South meets with the five teams in the state before state championships, Jacobson said that this year, boys gymnastics hopes to create new opportunities for competition and improvement.

“We should have a new competition this year called Coach’s Invitational. We’ll get all the guys from all the schools to come and they get to try their new skills or show off whatever they want to show off,” Jacobson said.

Captain and South senior Adrian Michael started gymnastics when he was 10 years old, and has been competing with his club team since before high school, which nearly prevented him from joining the high school team.

“I didn’t really want to join anything that might jeopardize [my club gymnastics career], but I went to a practice, and I immediately saw that everyone was passionate about gymnastics,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to that feeling that we are all working towards a goal of improving ourselves and our routines and winning the state championship.”

In contrast, captain and North senior Samuel Greenwald entered freshman year with no prior gymnastics experience. Instead, he said his passion for parkour and tricking sparked his interest in trying out for the North-South team; since then, he has risen to the challenge of learning the etiquette and conventions of gymnastics 

“In the other disciplines that I practice, there’s a lot of freedom to bring in your own sense of creativity and flow and not [be] stripped on presentation. But in gymnastics, you’re graded and examined for every skill that you do, so it took some fine tuning,” he said. “I’m still working towards perfecting the certain elements that I do.”

Like Greenwald, the team is no stranger to challenge: when piquing interest for the new season was a struggle, Greenwald said that the team rallied together.

“We found that recruiting or getting kids onto the team was a lot more difficult after COVID. People were more reluctant to come out for a sport,” Greenwald said. “But overall, gymnastics was able to adapt pretty well, just because it’s not a contact sport.”

A notable bright side of a smaller team is the tight-knit community and ample room to grow, Jacobson said.

“The seniors will be able to help set the tone, but it’ll mean that we can start fresh and cultivate a new set of traditions,” she said.

Michael said that beyond the supportive teammates, the scoring structure of the sport also lends itself to a culture of unity, as each athlete’s score is added to their teammates’ scores to form a cumulative team score. 

“It’s very clear that you’re competing for your team. You know that and your teammates know that. They’re not only holding themselves to a high standard, but also holding you to a high standard,” he said. “It really builds everyone up because people know that at practice, they have a responsibility to show up for their team and for themselves.”

To those who may be interested in joining the team, Greenwald said that no experience is necessary and there are no cuts; the only requisite is being willing to dive in. 

“We can teach you anything you’d like from all skills or disciplines or events,” Greenwald said. “I came in my freshman year with little to no prior background experience, and it’s really been amazing … you’d have a really good time.”