ANDOVER — The Masschusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) recently decided to do away with boys gymnastics as a varsity sport after this year.
After listening to Joseph Aronov, it may want to reconsider.
If Aranov were more vocal, the Andover High freshman could probably be a poster boy for his dying sport.
Or Aronov could be a spokesman for anyone who doubts the value of participating in high school sports.
As an eighth grader, life started spiraling down for Aronov when his mother, Irina, succumbed to a three-year battle with cancer, leaving him periodically depressed.
By the beginning of his freshman year, Aronov was feeling unattached. He had given up on gymnastics, which was his passion as a youngster, and he lacked interest in his school work, which was evident by his bad grades.
With his older brother, Daniel, in his second year at Oxford University and his father not getting home most days until 9 p.m. from his electrical engineering job in New Hampshire, an often depressed Aronov spent too of his time alone at his home in the Ballardvalle section of Andover.
“I was feeling alone and it wasn’t a good time for me,” said Aronov. “I spent most of my time by myself in front of a computer. My friends were out doing sports.”
By mid-fall, while in “a major funk,” a meeting with his guidance counselor, Lauri Carrick, over his falling grades and slipping self-esteem changed everything. When she heard about his background in gymnastics, she encouraged him to get back into the sport, to get out of the house and be active like most of his classmates.
Carrick contacted Andover High gymnastics coach Steve Sirois.
“It sounded like a good solution for him,” said Sirois. “I called Joseph and his father about it and they said they had no way to get to practice and it would be too complicated. I told them not to worry about it, that we’d figure something out.”
By this time, Aronov was ready to get back to gymnastics. He had started doing the sport as a 5-year-old and become quite successful on the club level, but he had given up on it several months earlier.
“I stopped in September — I just got sick of it,” he said. “I was so tired of it I thought I’d never do gymnastics again. But surprisingly I missed it and then my guidance counselor said I should do it.”
He was so ready to resume, and become involved, that he took up his father’s suggestion on getting to the evening practices.
After school, Aronov takes the bus home to do his homework. When it’s time, he walks a mile to the Ballardvalle train station and hops on the train to the center of Andover. He then gets off and walks a mile or so to the high school.
“It’s been really good,” said Aronov, who often helps his less experienced teammates in some of the events. “I like being on the team with the other guys and competing. I don’t know if I like it enough to get back to club (gymnastics) — I did that basically every day for four years and it’s too much — but I like it as a sport at the high school.
“I’m not sure if I can get to the level I was at before — I lost a lot in just a few months — but I like doing it again and I think I’m doing pretty well.”
In fact, Aronov is doing more than “pretty well” according to Sirois. With a specialty on the rings, he complemented star senior Brian Manning in what is a strong one-two punch in the all-around for what is Andover’s best team in years.
“He’s one of the top five in the state in all-around right now and next year he’ll be one of the best,” said Sirois. “He has all the tools, he’s very powerful and he’s still growing.
“He’s done a lot for the team and he’s a great kid. We’re really happy to have him with us.”
Thanks to his return to gymnastics, Aronov has started opening up and, although he’s never been involved with other sports, he’s giving strong consideration to joining the ultimate frisbee team in the spring.
“That’s a good sign, that he’s thinking of doing that,” said Carrick, who has been a guidance counselor at Andover for 11 years. “It’s been wonderful to see how he’s done in gymnastics, to see him be part of a team, interact with other kids and be recognized for what he does.
“He’s come a long way. It was a tough adjustment for him, first with his mom, and then trying to fit into a new school with a new routine. Joining a sports team has been very important, that’s easy to see.”