Mrs. Hewins Gymnastics

Westfield's retiring gymnastics coach Joanne Hewins looking for a perfect (10) ending


Westfield High School gymnastics coach has had plenty to smile about during her 20 seasons with the Bombers. She will retire after Friday night's Western Mass. Championships.


By Russ Held
on November 13, 2013 6:04 p.m.


WESTFIELD - If you're lucky, you can leave on top.

If you're good, you've had nine chances to do so.

And if you're Joanne Hewins, her last opportunity comes Friday night at the Western Massachusetts Championships when she coaches the Westfield High School gymnastics team for the last time.

The six-time champions are the favorites entering the sectional meet, set for a 6 p.m. start at Minnechaug Regional in Wilbraham.

Hewins is wrapping up her 20th season at Westfield, seeking the program's 10th Western Mass. title.

"I have gone back and forth . . . yes, no, yes, no,'' Hewins said of her retirement. "I still get a sick feeling over it. It's going to kill me, but it's time. As my dad would tell me, you have 'a good arrangement there.'

''I promised my (three, now grown) kids since I won the first one that I would stop coaching.''

That was 2001.

"That one was so special,'' Hewins said. "It was the highlight for me, to that point. We won it at South Hadley and it was such a thrill.''

Then there were title seasons in 2003 and '04.

"I coached outside the gym, I knew a lot of the kids before they ever got to the high school,'' Hewins said. "And we got a little better and the younger kids started wanting to be a part of it and it just blossomed.''

Westfield's recent run of success stretches back 91 meets to Oct. 23, 2007, the last time the Bombers lost. A win Friday will push the streak to 125-0, including the six title wins.

"It hasn't been a burden on the kids, it motivates them,'' Hewins said. "They want to be another class that has gone all four years being undefeated. This could be the third group of seniors to do that . . . and that's a lot to live up to.''

The program's success even landed her in Sports Illustrated, where she was featured as part of the magazine's "Faces in the Crowd.''

"There have been so many high points and the lowest too,' Hewins said. "Losing Carlos (Montes-de-Oca) brought the team and the program together even more.''

Montes-de-Oca was killed in an automobile accident, a week after the Bombers won the '09 title during his junior season.

"Every season, we'd go over to the vault and sing happy birthday to him,'' Hewins said. "It was definitely a life-changing experience. But then after a few years, there wasn't anyone left who really knew him.''

"And we had tough years. My mother, father, grandmother, a couple of parents and my three kids - 1, 2, and 5  - would be the only ones at our home meets. I'd put a mat in the corner for my kids to jump on . . . but I would never be able to take them to away meets.''

Gymnastics - now with five programs - in the PVIAC has survived lean years, after it fielded as many as 16 or 18 teams when Hewins started.

"We'll be OK, programs have been very cohesive - (Chicopee Comp coach) Sandi Barrett has been there 23 years and Cheryl has been (at Minnechaug) for 20,'' Hewins said of the PVIAC. "And Westfield will be OK. I wouldn't be leaving if I was worried about our program. My assistant (Beth Liquori) has been great.''

Hewins grew up in Westfield and with gymnastics, taking up the sport at the YMCA and Pioneer Gymnastics.

"I broke my neck when I was 15 and missed three years,'' Hewins said. "It was such a big part of my life. But I continued at Springfield College and it's been part of my life since I was a junior councilor when I was 13.''

Word of her decision, which she made official last Friday, has brought back a wave of memories.

"The past few days, I've had so many people send me messages about how they think I have inspired so many kids in the city,'' said Hewins, a third-grade teacher at Southampton Road School. "That I've helped make them the person they've become.

"But it's the other way around. I am the person I am because of all of them over the years.''

Looking ahead to Friday, Hewins said host Minnechaug will be among top challengers and that chase for the individual all-around title will be very competitive.

Westfield's Taryn Hamel, Angela Bonavita and Kendall Neidig are headliners, along with Minnechaug's Kenzie Lee and Sarah O'Brien, Chicopee Comp's Sabrina Alekseyenko and Alison Renaud of Agawam.

"As a team, the competition is going to be tough,'' Hewins said. "Hopefully we can continue with our momentum. But I keep telling the team, it's not a given. Nothing is a given.''

Westfield wins 7th straight Western Mass. gymnastics championship



Seven-time reigning Western Mass. gymnastics champion Westfield poses with its latest trophy.

By Russ Held
on November 15, 2013 9:48 p.m.


WILBRAHAM - Say perfect six times fast.

And repeat - seven straight years as Western Massachusetts champions.

Westfield finished off its sixth straight unbeaten season in high school gymnastics by winning its seventh straight sectional team championship Friday night.

It was Westfield's time again as it accomplished both with a winning score of 138.25.

Minnechaug was runner-up with a solid score of 135.3 and Chicopee Comp (131.425) took third. Agawam (127.925) followed and Hampshire was fifth at 122.7.

Westfield won its 10th title in 12 years, and with it sent 20 year coach Joanne Hewins
 into retirement with tears of joy.

"This was so overwhelming ... a bittersweet feeling for me with everything that happened tonight,'' Hewins said. "The kids were on. I just asked them to do the best they could, for them and for me. And they did it.''

The individual all-around title was won by Taryn Hamel of Westfield. The senior posted a score of 35.15, finishing first on beam with a score of 9.25.

"This means so much to me, I have worked so hard for this,'' Hamel said. "I just tried my best and it couldn't be a better feeling to win the all-around.''

Hamel finished third last year and was fourth as a sophomore.

"I am so happy for Tayrn, she is such a good kid. She deserves this,'' Hewins said.

Hamel, one of 14 Westfield seniors, also took second on bars (8.45), third on floor (9.05) and  seventh on vault (8.4).

"Right after the beam I felt good; I started thinking that maybe I could do it,'' Hamel said.

Kenzie Lee (35.05) and Sarah O'Brien (34.95) of Minnechaug took the next two all-around spots. Alison Renaud (34.325) of Agawam was fourth and Sabrina Alekseyenko (33.975) of Chicopee Comp rounded out the top five.

"This was my best meet of the season,'' said Lee, a senior. "I made one mistake, but I wouldn't change a thing.''

O'Brien, only a freshman, won on bars with an 8.7.

"Bars is not usually my strongest event,'' O'Brien said. "I added a new dismount yesterday. You don't usually do things like that, but tonight it made a big difference.''

Other individual event winners included Jordan Setian (vault, 8.65) of Minnechaug and Westfield's Josh Burrage (floor, 9.35).

Minnechaug's runner-up finish came as it hosted its first sectional championship since 1996.

"Things went really well for us,'' Minnechaug coach Cheryl Palm said. "We didn't want to give away all the little points. I don't think anyone thought we'd do this well after we lost some very good seniors last year. Our future is bright.''

Depth was again the key for Westfield, with five different gymnasts combining to post nine top 6 finishes in individual events.

Angela Bonavita of Westfield, a runner-up a year ago, took sixth in the all-around with a 33.725.