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NFA gymnasts honor former coach Hopkins-Terrell with a victory

North Franklin — Back in November, Sue Hopkins-Terrell was behind the scenes at her induction into the Connecticut High School Coaches' Association Hall of Fame, partaking in appetizers and such with the other honorees, when she came into the main ballroom at Southington's Aqua Turf Club.

Hopkins-Terrell, who coached the Norwich Free Academy gymnastics team for 21 seasons, including winning seven straight Class L state championships from 1996-2002, saw then that she was among friends, including current NFA coach Cindy Briggs, one of Hopkins-Terrell's former gymnasts.

"When I came out, she was one of the people that were at the table," Hopkins-Terrell said. "She was. Kara Kochanski (former gymnast and current NFA cross country coach) was. Roy Wentworth (NFA athletic director), of course. It was a huge surprise (to see Briggs). How wonderful. How professional. She had a bouquet of roses for me. It was really, really a nice feeling."

On Saturday, Briggs paid tribute to Hopkins-Terrell once again, honoring the former coach of the program before the Wildcats' 126.35-110.65 victory over Ellington at Thames Valley Gymnastics.

It turns out at the Hall of Fame banquet, Briggs conspired with Wentworth on how to honor Hopkins-Terrell further. Briggs invited the program's alumnae to Saturday's event and before the national anthem welcomed her mentor on to the mat, presenting her with flowers and reading a list of Hopkins-Terrell's accomplishments.

Hopkins-Terrell was 218-59 in her career, with seven state titles in addition to 10 Eastern Connecticut Conference championships. A 1978 NFA graduate, she competed in high school gymnastics — she was a two-time state champ on the uneven bars and received All-America honors as a senior — as well as at Southern Connecticut State University.

She is a member of the Norwich Sports Hall of Fame, the NFA Hall of Fame and the New Agenda Northeast Hall of Fame, honoring girls and women in sports. A Preston resident, Hopkins-Terrell retired as the health and physical education department chair at NFA and is enjoying a variety of projects, as well as camping with her husband David.

With Wentworth in attendance Saturday, Hopkins-Terrell spoke of the years the gymnastics team and wrestling team, which Wentworth coached, shared practice time in Norton Gymnasium at NFA.

"We had half a gym," Hopkins-Terrell said. "And we were state champions. Half a gym. Could never put a full floor mat out. Had to run over the wrestling mat in his gym ... had to poke my head around and say 'Can the kids vault now?' The kids must have been dedicated to think about having half a gym and creating seven state championships."

Hopkins-Terrell labeled her call to the Hall of Fame as "absolutely, truly amazing."

"It was very nice. To this day, I'm like, 'I don't get it,'" she said. "I just surrounded myself with good people. ... I need to make sure that people understand it's the parents, it's the other coaches, it's the mentors that I had. It's all the people who made it possible."

"I wouldn't miss this day for the world," Wentworth said. "I'm glad we could put it together. Sue and I have had a longstanding friendship. We shared a gym for a good 20-some-odd years. ... She's stong-minded, a competitor. She holds them accountable but she also has a soft presence that goes along with the pretty firm expectations. The success came from, I think, just Sue being Sue."

This is the third season with Briggs, a 2011 NFA grad, as head coach. Briggs is the daughter of Linda Tardiff Briggs, a former high school teammate of Hopkins-Terrell's at NFA, and said she's enjoyed every moment of coaching at her alma mater.

The Wildcats (1-2) picked up their first win of the season Saturday. Kate Titus was second all-around with 31.9 points and Emma Field was third with 31.8. Sarah Fedeli was second in the vault (8.25), while Titus was second on beam (8.3) and Field second on floor (8.3). Ellington's Kaitlyn Delaney won the all-around competition with 34.35 points.

Said Briggs: "I wanted to bring Sue back in (Saturday) because I wanted to give credit where it's due. A big thing (I took) from Sue is making gymnastics fun, giving these kids an opportunity to get some credit for a sport they work so hard in. Over the years, we've created such a positive culture. I think we've continued that culture that Sue had in the past."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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