(Republished with permission from The Bradford)
By Lizzie Berger, Wellesley High School ’22
Senior News Editor
The high school gymnastics team, consisting of eleven gymnasts and two coaches, has pushed themselves physically and mentally to bring home an impressive 6-1 record for the 2021-2022 season. To end the season, they competed in the Bay State Conference Championships, and were thrilled upon receiving their best overall score of the season and a spot in third place.
The team is coached by head coach Laura Lawless and assistant coach Emily Ellis. Lawless has been coaching for six years, ever since her coworker at her previous job passed the team along.
Gymnastics is unique to other sports in that each gymnast perfects a routine for one or more events: floor, beam, vault, or bars. They perform the same routine, with variations as they improve, at every meet, and practice mainly consists of working on said routines or learning new tricks to incorporate.
“We begin practice with a warm up, usually running, stretching, or a little bit of cardio to protect the girls from getting injured. Then we’ll head to the beam and we’ll run through routines or some new skills they need to add for bonus points at meets. Then we head to the floor and do the same thing. We go through every routine of gymnasts who are in the lineup, and anyone not in the lineup is encouraged to work on getting the skills they need for their routines,” said Lawless.
Although every gymnast prepares a routine for one or all events, only six perform it at meets, and only the top four scorers have their points added into the team’s overall score. At a gymnastics meet, each competing team receives a total score out of 160, made up of sixteen scores each out of ten: four from each event.
“Nobody ever gets a ten, especially in high school gymnastics. The highest score I’ve seen is from Framingham—a student got a 9.7 on floor and on vault. That was insane. An average score is like a seven, so if you receive above an eight it’s normally pretty good,” said team captain Josie Anderson ’23. “Our highest score in total is a 130, which is pretty good for a gymnastics team.”
The team is led by four captains: Eva Wall ’22, Ainsley Keyes ’22, Michaela Hinderliter ’23, and Anderson. Although all four captains have been doing gymnastics since they were in the single digits, they want to emphasize that prior training is not imperative to being a part of the team.
“I really don’t think outside experience is necessary to be an active, important member to our team. The coaches are really willing to work with everyone, and help build skills, because I have gotten a lot of skills just from being in the gym. It’s a very accepting atmosphere for anyone to try out anything, and the coaches will be happy to teach,” said Wall.
The team typically practices Mondays, Wednesdays, and Sundays, with meets commonly on Tuesdays and Fridays. Although the gymnasts themselves have a say in which of the four events they compete, this decision is ultimately up to the coaches, who prefer to pass the majority of the responsibility to the captains.
“Sometimes, myself and my assistant Emily will choose the lineup and ask our captains, ‘What do you think about this?’ Then, other times, I’ll hand the captain’s the lineup sheet and have them decide who they want to put in the lineup. Most of the time we have our strongest gymnasts anchor each event, just because that’s when their scores will build upon each other, resulting in a really impressive overall score,” said Lawless.
In addition to having a final say in the lineup, the captains have numerous responsibilities, including leading warmups, planning team dinners, running the team’s Instagram account, providing rides for younger teammates, and leading pep talks and chants. Aside from this, they have a responsibility to maintain a positive team environment.
“As a captain, I support the other girls, especially the underclassmen, and make sure they feel welcome and that there’s not a divide between the upperclassmen and underclassmen. I want us to feel and act like one team,” said Hinderliter. “There’s never any drama on the team, everyone really likes each other, and we’re all friends. If someone does bad on one event, we don’t criticize them, we just make sure that they know that it’s okay, people make mistakes, and you can grow from them.”
Lawless commends the captains on the work they put into keeping the team close, and appreciates the fact that she can count on them for any team-related needs.
“The captains are definitely the glue that keeps us bonded together. They communicate with the girls anything that I need them to relay, that may not be received as well if it came from me. They cultivate team spirit through fun events like wearing some ‘spirit’ to school the day of a meet, whether it be neon or dressing up as each other. The captains are also really good about recruiting the younger girls as well, like younger siblings or friends from the middle school,” said Lawless.
Although it is not visible to an outsider’s eye, the team faced some challenges that come with a physically grueling sport and the never-ending effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The beginning of the season was a little rough because one of our captains had a concussion, another captain got COVID, and one of our other captains had medical issues. That’s been a challenge, but our team has really been able to push through these obstacles and not let it affect how we compete,” said Hinderliter.
As the season comes to an end, the captains reflect on their positive experiences working together and value the way that gymnastics has brought them closer.
“Eva, Ainsley, Michaela, and I are very close. They are so awesome. I am so grateful to be able to be a captain with them because they all have their own unique strengths and I think it makes for a really good team,” said Anderson.