“Superstars”: Rocket Gymnastics Program Thriving


Elisabeth Quirbach ('23), Orbit Contributor

Through the doors of Reading Gymnastics Academy, a haze of chalk dust fills the air. Walking past the spectator benches reveals multiple bars, beams, and vaults which are swarmed by anxious gymnasts, wearing crystal covered leotards and their hair in a tightly braided bun. Each gymnast is warming up for the highly anticipated first meet of the 2023 season. 

A Fast Start

The Rocket’s hosted Burlington for their first Middlesex League meet on January 4th at their home gym, Reading Gymnastics Academy. Each MIAA Gymnastics meet consists of four events: Bars, Vault, Beam, and Floor. For these events, each team competes with five girls, and often has a few gymnasts who perform every event, known as all around. The judge scores each performance out of ten points, which is then compiled with the other scores for a total team score. 

On the 4th, Reading outscored Burlington on Beam, Vault, and Bars to finish with 144.95 in comparison to Burlington’s 139.55. This victory not only sets the pace for the 2023 season, but also reflects the great success that Reading Gymnastics has experienced over the years. 

A Decorated Coach

The team is coached by Zachary Stein who is assisted by Jillian Stira. The head coach Zach, has a long history with Reading Gymnastics as he was a former competitor himself until graduating in 2004 and was later inducted in the RMHS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011. 

Zach’s career as a high school gymnast was not typical as by the time he reached ninth grade, the Reading’s Boy’s Gymnastics team was gone. Zach says, “So my only option to participate on a gymnastics team in high school was to join the girls team. I started learning the girls events in middle school and by the time I got to high school I could do a back handspring on the balance beam.” His determination paid off and by the time he was a Junior, Zach dominated the Middlesex League. He often swept all four events in multiple meets and at one point, held the school record for every event as well. His accomplishments did not go unnoticed as he states, “I was the back-to-back Middlesex League All-Around Champion in 2003 and 2004 and placed 2nd All-Around at State Individuals my senior year” On top of that, Zach also was named the Daily Times Chronicle’s Outstanding Winter Performer in 2003, and both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald All-Scholastic Team for 2003 and 2004. 

Coach Stira, Senior Sophia Isbell, and Coach Stein.

Stein undoubtedly put Reading Gymnastics on the radar, explaining, “My senior year was the first time that the RMHS Gymnastics team qualified to Team States, which was a notably huge accomplishment for the program.” He now uses his experience and skill to coach the team and continue the success for Reading. Zach explains, “At first, we were an average-scoring team putting up scores in the 120’s and always had a season goal of scoring 130.0. The amount of depth that this team has grown to have since then is remarkable. In 2018, we beat the team school record of 146.6, set in 2005, with a huge 147.0.” Not only does Zach have a great influence on the team’s achievements, but individuals as well. He states, “I have coached nearly all of the athletes who have since defeated my old school records.” Over the years Reading’s dominance in the league has also been showcased with multiple Middlesex League Champion Titles. This is an outcome of having “multiple “superstar” athletes so close in age and on the team at the same time,” Zach describes.

A Talented Team

Having multiple “superstar gymnasts” is a feature that Reading brings to the table this year with seniors Sophia Isbell, Avery Abate, Laura Yatsuhashi, Erin McTaggart and Christina Kapodistrias. These five athletes are predicted to heavily influence Reading’s scoring against other teams in the league and state. Head coach Zach says, “We are still in the early part of our season, so right now we are playing around with different line-ups and skills in routines to see what our strongest line-up could be for the big meets like Leagues and Team Sectionals.” The Rockets are looking good so far with a victory at their first two meets against Burlington and Winchester. 

In addition to the seniors making a huge impact, the majority of the team are year-round gymnasts and perform for Reading Gymnastics Academy. This allows for an overall experienced and talented team. However, the time these athletes dedicate to the sport is abundant. Senior captain Sophia Isbell describes, “Most girls are already at the gym practicing before high school practice because they participate in club gymnastics.” It is possible that some gymnasts are at the gym from right after school until nine o’clock at night. But typically a normal high school practice consists of open gym and practicing dealing with the pressure of teammates watching one compete. Isbell also mentions, “At the end of practice we come together and each share a highlight and low of the day.”  

Reading’s Gymnastics program continues to prove its success year after year, and is undoubtedly one of the most victorious athletic programs that Reading has to offer. With Stein leading the team and a strong group of senior gymnasts, it looks like the 2023 season will follow this pattern.