HINSDALE – The Wall is a traditional phrase for the Glenbard West boys gymnastics program.
“The Wall is the team, basically,” senior Matthew Ideler said. “Everyone is a brick. The Wall is built stronger by every person.”
Former head coach Steve Kafka first constructed The Wall in 1996, the year the Hilltoppers captured their first state team championship.
The Hilltoppers again climbed to first place May 12. Their 160.95 prevailed by just .2 points over Lyons Township at the state meet at Hinsdale Central in the closest state finals ever.
Ideler, seniors Timmy Le, Frankie Pham and Michael Formento, juniors Aiden Rudolph and Shea Rudolph and freshman Alexander Demeris counted toward the team score.
The 2016 Hilltoppers were part of the previous tightest team finish – second by .35 to Niles West.
“We were on the other end of that one. It was nice to be on the upside this time,” Glenbard West coach Frank Novakowski said. “[We] performed well. We didn’t really watch scores. We talked about positive mental focus through all six events.”
Team scores never were displayed at state. The seniors learned they won by overhearing alumni discuss live results from the Internet.
“[Winning] was really emotional. We put in hard work all year long so we didn’t feel the pain we did last year,” Pham said.
In the individual finals May 13, Pham was second on still rings (9.3) and Le tied for second on floor exercise (9.55) and vault (9.4) – all .05 from first.
Shea Rudolph and Demeris tied for second on parallel bars (9.15).
In 2016, Le won parallel bars and was second on vault, and Pham was third on rings. Le scored a perfect 10 on vault April 4 – Illinois’ third high school gymnast ever to accomplish that feat.
“Honestly, all of those [achievements] are great, but nothing’s better than winning a state championship with a team. I’d trade all of that for a state championship,” Le said.
“I’m OK with taking second [on rings] as long as we took first in state,” Pham said. “We always talk more about the team than individuals. That’s what matters most in our gym.”
Returning to Glen Ellyn late in the day May 12, gymnasts were escorted by a fire truck to a pep assembly in Biester Gym and were greeted by students attending a school dance.
“It was really something to see, all of the kids from the dance running down the hill,” Ideler said.
Novakowski competed for Glenbard East under Kafka for one season before Kafka came to Glenbard West. Upon Kafka’s retirement, Novakowski became head coach in 2009.
“I felt [The Wall] was an important tradition to continue,” Novakowski said. “I’m really fortunate to be at West. It’s kind of a neat thing to take over for your former coach.”
State meet team scores
1. Glenbard West, 160.95 points
2. Lyons Township, 160.75
3. Deerfield, 160.4
Visit http://shawurl.com/32qr to read about the Wheaton co-op’s gymnastics state meet.