Sometimes I write stories that I know are more derivative of LIC than the usual drivel I scratch out. That’s my prerogative and this is one of those stories. In researching it I learned a lot more than the original subject matter.
Distance-wise, Long Island City High School is about as far as one can be from the location of the average LICtalk reader and still technically be in Long Island City. From a socio-economic perspective, that span is equally large.
Nevertheless the actual distance is only 1.8 miles as the crow flies. Likewise, the dreams of the kids who attend that high school are not too dissimilar from those of our own kids.
Achieving those dreams is another story, but there are some incredible people looking to help actualize them. One of these is Ken Achiron, the legendary long-time Men’s Gymnastics Coach for Long Island City High School.
Well actually Ken is now the former coach since he’s retired from teaching, but he still assists the current coach, Anthony Petrocelli, a University of Iowa grad and All-American in men’s gymnastics who was born and raised in Astoria.
Ken’s initiation to gymnastics began in the NYC public schools where Phys. Ed teachers taught a little bit of every sport over the school year. Then, when he got to Francis Lewis High School, he would attend “Night Centers,” a citywide program where the school gymnasiums were kept open and accessible to kids for free play. It was “the best program the Board of Ed had, the gyms were jammed, mostly with basketball playing, and it kept kids off the street.” Because Ken knew that he wasn’t growing as fast as his peers, he gravitated towards a side room where gymnastics were taking place, and ended up joining the varsity team in his junior year.
From there he went to Queens College and was on the men’s gymnastics team, and several years after graduation landed at Long Island City HS in 1978, where in addition to being a teacher he coached the boys gymnastics team. Since that time he has witnessed many changes to the school, the students, and the sport. Starting with the latter, two significant things have occurred. The first is a large reduction in the number of public school gymnastic teams, which Ken attributes to the consolidation and/or fragmentation of the city’s policy to place 3-4 high schools in a single building and dropping smaller sports that don’t have a critical mass. Plus in this day and age, gymnastics is a very expensive sport in NYC. 1 Ex LIC High School and a few others, kids without the financial means are not able to participate. The second change, and this one is a positive, is that the equipment has gotten a lot better, allowing for more difficult exercises – “kids do much bigger stuff now.” Back when Ken participated, floor exercises were performed on a wood floor with four cones.
In 1995, LICHS was moved into a brand new building, which while being a far superior facility, is not as intimate as the previous one according to Ken. Likewise, though not as abruptly, the student composition has changed. In his earlier years it was more of a neighborhood school (Mike Gianaris, Class of ’88), though while blue-collar, provided kids with an upbringing that enabled them to succeed on their own. Nowadays students come from all over: Far Rockaway, the Bronx, China; where the junior highs left them ill-prepared and thus many are in need of a lot of help. As expected there is a large ESL program and a high proportion of Title I eligibles. Plus if a kids schlepping in (and back) from South Jamaica, that too is a real challenge. Nevertheless the school has a terrific staff now, that “work their butts off to get kids through.”
Ken coaches because he loves it. For quite awhile gymnastics were the preeminent sport at LICHS, the teams won 12 city championships over the years, and the kids were leaders in the building. For some it led them to good colleges, and a few of them competed in American Ninja. In addition to coaching, Ken judged meets, leading to travel all over the world including China, Japan, Israel, France and Spain.
While those days are over, the Long Island City Invitational Gymnastics Tournament is in it’s 37th year. Ken will be there and so can you. It takes place on Friday, January 26 at LICHS, 14-30 Broadway, LIC NY (right down the street from Costco) It’s free to attend, and whether you do so or not, they are always in need of funds. See the links below to contribute, or you can contact Ken directly for more info including how to buy a page in the invitational program: firstname.lastname@example.org.
LICHS Gymnastics Donation Page - “After coaching over 35 years, I still think back to my own high school days. I don’t think I would have done as well in school if I didn’t have gymnastics to go to after classes”
Long Island City High School - “one of the most diverse schools in Queens. As of the 2013-2014 school year, Long Island City High School was 62% Hispanic/Latino, 15% Asian, 12% Black/African American and 10% White”
There’ll Be a Rockaway Reunion in LIC, Tacos and All – Tacoway Beach and Rockaway Brewing together again on Jan. 27
57th Ave/Hunters Point South Freestanding School Rendering Revealed - meh, pretty mundane
TF Cornerstone Picks Up LIC Development Site – bordering Astoria for $25 million
Max Elghanayan, TF Cornerstone Scion, Dies – at age 30. Max was a vice president at the firm, working on megaprojects such as a six-tower development on Long Island City’s waterfront
Nas Details Life in Queensbridge In ‘Live from the Kennedy Center’ - “a densely textured, deeply lyrical portrait of life in the largest public housing project in North America, the Queensbridge Houses, located in the Long Island City area of New York City, home to nearly 7,000 people.”
- not because the operators are gouging kids, but that’s what it costs to run these private programs according to Ken. As previously mentioned, this was provided by the Bd of Ed, until the NYC fiscal crisis in the mid-70′s [↩]