Green Wave gymnastics: the best show in town
NMHS gymnasts win state open championship
It's the best show in town.
The New Milford High School gymnastics team gently nudged aside its competition to earn that lofty billing while winning the state open championship in competition Saturday at NMHS.
In accomplishing something that had eluded the school's similarly talented wrestling team last week, coach Bethany Mihaly's dedicated troupe of gymnasts also thrust themselves into any discussion of the very best all-time sports teams at NMHS.
Ironically, while now securely placed in the pantheon of Green Wave sports teams, the girls well might be the most underappreciated outstanding squad in school annals.
Relatively few fellow students attend the home meets and, other than parents and close friends of the girls, the fans for the Green Wave at away meets are few and far between.
That's sad. All of you local sports fans who appreciate wonderful athletics have missed the boat on this one.
Ashley O'Connor has for two years been the best athlete in her sport at the school.
For four years, the Yale University-bound senior has been impressing those oh-so-difficult-to-please gymnastics judges with her grace, dexterity, competitive instinct and attention to detail in her routines.
Now a two-time state open all-around champion and hoping tomorrow (Saturday) to make it back-to-back New England all-around titles, Ashley has stamped herself as one of the very few truly elite athletes in school history.
Yet what makes this winter's edition of a perennially strong program so dynamic is that perhaps the best gymnast ever at NMHS has to grind it out each meet to stay just ahead of sophomore prodigy Carla Hernandez.
And not far behind is junior Colleen Menard, whose singularly impressive all-around performance at the state open meet Saturday might well have turned the trick for the Green Wave.
Then there are seniors Jenny Cahalane, Ashleigh Barney, Adrianna Mannino and MacKenzie Russo, as well as underclassman Gabby Scoca. None of them crack the scoring column, but they play important roles with their sense of commitment to the sport.
There's a strong camaraderie amongst these girls. A good slice of the credit should go to coach Mihaly and her volunteer assistant, Mary O'Connor, who just happens to the mother of Ashley.
Coach Mihaly has helped develop numerous state-class gymnasts since she arrived on the NMHS scene in 1989, but it's been her knack for making her support athletes feel an important part of the team that has allowed the Green Wave program to stay afloat and often flourish.
The gymnasts battle against the odds each year.
They're one of just a handful of teams at NMHS that practice off campus, and it's often been a tenuous balancing act to find hours in a gym -- for the past few years they've worked out next door at the Elite Gymnastics Center -- and hope money will be there in the budget to pay for the sport.
Just a couple of years ago, as one of the teams at risk during a tough budget season because of its low numbers, the Green Wave appeared headed for oblivion.
Fortunately, the local non-profit MVP-SOS organization salvaged both the gymnastics and golf programs with significant donations -- and the girls have never looked back.
Some would say gymnastics needn't be considered a serious sport like basketball, ice hockey, baseball and the like.
I'll quickly counter that there is indeed something special about watching an athlete vault off a springboard, twist and turn just so while soaring high in the air, and land on her feet, always finishing with the ritualistic smile to please the judge.
One could just as easily describe the courage, coordination and countless hours of preparation it takes to excel on the uneven parallel bars, the balance beam or in floor exercise.
To conquer all of those disciplines is remarkable.
When I'm fortunate enough to attend one of the Green Wave's meets, I marvel at how athletic the girls are and how they balance their flair for showmanship with a charming humility.
For those sports fans reading this who have a break in the schedule tomorrow (Saturday), take the one-hour drive to Jonathan Law High School in Milford to see the 2009-10 Green Wave perform one last time at the New England championship meet.
Don't just take my word for it... Check it out for yourselves.
It is indeed the best show in town.
Norm Cummings is editor of The Greater New Milford Spectrum. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 860-355-7323.