Todd Heimer’s influence on Nassau high school athletic programs remains as strong as ever — even 11 years after his passing.
Almost 200 gymnasts participated in the 27th annual Todd Heimer Gymnastics Coaches Invitational at New Hyde Park High School on Saturday — a showcase for athletes from every team in the county who had not yet earned scores high enough advance to the state qualifier.
The day represents everything Heimer was about, Nassau gymnastics coordinator Kim Rhatigan said.
“He was dedicated to supporting and evolving high school athletics,” Rhatigan said. “If he thought it would help the high school athlete, he was all for it.
“I’ll never forget what he said to me when I came bursting into his office with the idea almost thirty years ago. Without hesitation, he said, go for it ‘Cartwheel Kim.’”
Heimer, the executive director of Nassau athletics for 18 years, died of a heart attack in 2012. The following year, the invitational was renamed in his honor after a unanimous vote from the gymnastics coaches.
“Today wouldn’t be possible without Todd,” North Shore coach Melissa Vassallo said. “He was a true supporter of athletics and gymnastics in the county. This is just one example of his legacy.”
Vassallo, who has been the North Shore coach since 2006, competed in the meet for North Shore in its inaugural year in 1995.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for the gymnasts to get the recognition they deserve. They look forward to this all year. I can’t imagine the season without it.”
The invitational is the last event of the season and does not include gymnasts who have already advanced to Tuesday’s state qualifying meet.
“The purpose is to highlight the gymnasts who are the backbone of high school gymnastics,” Rhatigan said. “These could be athletes who might not have formal club training or play other sports, but are still an essential part of the team and represent what it means to be a high school athlete. It also gives them a chance to compete with multiple teams for top honors before the season ends.”
For North Shore sophomore Marco Giannola, that chance to perform on Saturday wouldn’t be his last. His near-perfect floor routine, which was scored in its own category, received rapturous applause and a group hug from his teammates. Rhatigan asked him to perform in the exhibition round at the state qualifier.
“I was honestly so shocked,” Giannola said. “I love this sport so much and to be offered this opportunity to step out onto the floor one last time is so exciting. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the season.”
Four gymnasts from each team were chosen to compete in each event for individual scoring, which was divided by conference. Top All-Around in Conference I was awarded to Hewlett’s Ella Findling, who finished with a score of 30.975. Massapequa freshman Gianna Clouthier of finished with a meet-high 31.400 for the All-Around Conference II title.
“I was really excited for this meet,” Clouthier said. “There’s added pressure, but it feels really good to win and know my hard work paid off.”
The invitational also awarded the top 10 gymnasts in each category, who will receive medals and ribbons for their marks in March.
“This isn’t about who wins or loses,” Rhatigan said. “This meet is essential to upholding high school gymnastics. I want the gymnasts to know that they’re being recognized for their dedication and importance.”
“That’s what Todd wanted, too — for them to know that being a high school athlete was about more than a score or a title. His philosophy will be remembered and celebrated here every year.”