Why The Stuyvesant Lemurs Deserve Your Attention

The Stuyvesant boys’ gymnastics team was unable to repeat as champions, but they nevertheless enjoyed a strong season and are set up well for the future.

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By Ibtida Khurshed

In the Long Island City High School fourth-floor gymnasium, the boys’ gymnastics team, the Stuyvesant Lemurs, warmed up for their last match of the season. Because these were the finals, all four schools in the small PSAL league were present: Long Island City, Tottenville, LaGuardia, and Stuyvesant. Each team huddled together in a corner, stretching to music and talking strategy. One Tottenville gymnast did running backflips on a large blue mat stretched down the middle of the gym.

After the singing of the national anthem, the match began. The Lemurs’ first obstacle was the Pommel Horse, a thick wooden beam with two handles suspended off the ground by about a yard. Freshman Ryan Chen gripped the handles and rotated his body around the beam, slowly speeding up with each rotation, setting a precedent for the Lemurs who would follow him. After all of the Lemurs finished the Pommel Horse, they switched to the rings, which are two metal hoops hanging eight feet in the air, shoulder-width apart. You might have seen these hidden in the corner of the sixth-floor gym. Other teams simultaneously competed in different events. The crowd cheered after anybody managed to complete a particularly hard element. Even players from other teams joined in, demonstrating the level of respect present among everyone. “In some ways, [having such a small league] is really nice because it’s a super tight community, so [most] of my opponents, I’ve known them for multiple years, [...] and I’m able to kind of watch them progress along with myself,” senior and co-captain Kohl Shepherd said about the gymnastics community.

Gymnastics is a notoriously difficult sport. Even the most basic maneuvers require immense strength. Take, for example, the handstand pirouette, which is a common sight in Olympics-level gymnastics. In the PSAL, however, Shepherd is the only gymnast in the league who can perform it well enough for it to be worth the risk of points deductions compared to other moves.

The steep difficulty curve of gymnastics means that blunders are common. During the championship event, players from all teams lost their grip or bumped into the rails. With four teams providing six gymnasts each to compete in six different events, some of the 144 performances inevitably end poorly. It can happen to anyone. Gymnastics is such a mentally tough sport because your only opponents are your body and your brain. Unlike, say, a 90-minute soccer game, a gymnastics performance takes barely 30 seconds. Therefore, just one mistake feels devastating. “You have to think of the circumstances of the person messing up. It’s definitely a very mental sport. It all comes down to that one minute,” senior and co-captain Chester Lam said. To prepare, the team ran two-and-a-half-hour-long daily practices over the longer-than-average four-month season. “Going to practice and doing those same moves over and over and over again [gives you] the confidence you need, so your body knows what to do and you can perform,” Lam said.

This mentality and work ethic were emblematic of Stuyvesant’s whole season, and largely paid off. The Lemurs cruised to a 25-point victory over Long Island City in their first meet on January 9. After that, they frustratingly lost by only six points to Tottenville. However, they recovered and won their next three meets, including a nail-bitingly close win of 98.7 to 96.5 against LaGuardia. Throughout the regular season, the Lemurs went 4-2, losing only to Tottenville, a school that recruits experienced gymnasts. Contrastingly, most of the Lemurs began their gymnastics careers in high school.

In the season’s championship game, the team put up a valiant effort but was ultimately defeated by Tottenville, falling into second place with a score of 98.50. After losing their best player from last year—former captain Andrew Poon (‘23)—they were unable to win for a third consecutive year. A silver medal does not carry the same gravitas as a gold medal, but it is still an honorable feat. Looking ahead to the future, the Lemurs are well-prepared to rebound nicely. The team has as many freshmen as seniors, with Shepherd believing in the team’s future: “The younger members are definitely ready to step up,” Shepherd said. Next year, the Lemurs will look to reclaim the top spot in the league, 30 seconds at a time.