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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    Special Olympics coaching opened Montville High School senior’s eyes

    Montville High School senior Ava Gero poses for a portrait at the school Sunday, June 2, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Editor’s note: The Day publishes an annual series of stories spotlighting outstanding seniors graduating from the region’s 16 public and private high schools.

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    Montville ― High School Principal Robert Alves recalls that senior Ava Gero brought back the spirit to a high school that desperately needed it.

    “Two years ago, I kind of transitioned my role here to principal, and one of the first things I remember ― it was a chaotic time ― was Ava having a conversation with me and saying, ‘I really want to do more to bring back kind of the pride in what we do here at Montville High School. I want us to be more connected. I want us to come together, and I have some ideas,’ ” he said.

    Gero, 17, a lifelong Montville resident, will graduate with the rest of her class on June 17.

    She led the initiative to revitalize the school’s morning announcements to help publicize sporting events and highlight student athletes, Alves said. She also created an Instagram page to promote things going on at the school ― plays, music events or sports ― and brought back T-shirts and themes for the school’s sporting events.

    Under Gero’s direction, Alves said, the school moved toward a sense of community that had been lost since he started at the school as a physical education teacher almost 20 years ago.

    “As I get older, I share these war stories if you will, because I remember when I first started here, some of the things that Ava brought back (used to be) in existence here,” he said.

    Gero, a four-year cheerleader at the school, said her drive to bring back that sense of togetherness came during the COVID-19 pandemic, when football had transitioned to two-hand-touch, players and cheerleaders were masked, and there were only “about two families in the stands.”

    “It was just kind of sad for both the football and the cheerleaders to see,” she said, adding she wanted the school to have the same school spirit as Norwich Free Academy and other rivals.

    “And that was kind of the challenge here. We had a lot of people not willing to participate,” Gero said. “And that’s where the announcements came in. I had a lot of people say that the football and soccer games were a lot more fun, because there was more people there.”

    “So that was definitely a big achievement,” she said.

    Gero also achieved on the field, playing softball and doing several forms of coaching ― both in the summer for the Special Olympics softball team, and in the fall for the Montville Youth Football League cheering program.

    She said her experience coaching that cheer program, where she coached alongside former softball player and now softball and Special Olympics coach Baylee Brackett, served as a gateway to her getting involved with Special Olympics.

    Brackett was coaching the Special Olympics team for her first year, and recruited Gero to join her.

    “I got to hear a lot about their struggles and experiences. A lot of them live in group homes with each other,” Gero said. “And just hearing how they grew up was different from mine. It kind of opened my eyes to the kids with special needs that go here, too. I was able to connect with them on a deeper level because of my background with the Special Olympics team.”

    Gero said she is eager to graduate and turn her focus to a one-year program to Toni & Guy Hairdressing Academy in Cranston, R.I, where she will get her hairdressing license.

    “I was always the designated friend to do hair, makeup, everything for all my friends,” Gero said. “And I really enjoyed it, so I figured it would be a good time to try it out and see if it was something I wanted to pursue for the future.”


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