Todd Heimer's first love may have been baseball, but his lifelong passion was high school athletics. It's no wonder, then, that when Nassau gymnastics coordinator Kim Rhatigan asked to hold an invitational for athletes who hadn't earned scores high enough to advance to the state qualifier, he didn't hesitate.
"He said, 'Cartwheel Kim,' just go for it," Rhatigan said. "And now, 18 years later, it's grown into a tremendous meet that really emphasizes the high school gymnast."
Heimer, the executive director of Nassau athletics, died of a heart attack a year ago Thursday at the age of 56.
With his family in attendance Wednesday, Heimer's legacy was officially acknowledged in the newly-named Todd Heimer Coaches' Invitational at New Hyde Park High School. The annual event, which attracted 200 gymnasts from 20 schools, is a showcase for dedicated gymnasts who may not have the formal club training of the sport's top scorers, Rhatigan said. "These kids are the heart and soul of the team," she said.
Honors were divided among the two conferences: Top all-around in Conference I went to Massapequa's Sarah Woods, who finished with a 28.625. Valley Stream's Imani Williams, of Conference II, finished with a meet-high 28.750.
"It feels really good," Williams said, surrounded by her screaming teammates. "My biggest challenge was beam. I had to do a new trick [a diving cartwheel] and [winning] feels good."
The top 10 placers in every event for each conference also were acknowledged -- an inclusive practice that was very much in tune with the spirit of Heimer's tenure as executive director, said Pat Pizzarelli, the Lawrence athletic director and a close friend of Heimer.
"He was a minor league baseball player . . . but he gave the same time and effort and importance to every sport," Pizzarelli said. "He was all about the kids. If it was good for the kids and good for the sport, that's what he did, and that's what this meet is about."
The highest scores of the night belonged to Lawrence's Taylor Luck, who earned an 8.30 on beam, tops in Conference II and overall. Plainview-Old Bethpage's Colleen Burke earned a 8.15 on her front handspring vault, while teammate's Lauren Bernstein's floor routine was enough for a 8.15. Bernstein took first in all three of her events in Conference I with a 7.20 on bars and a 8.00 on beam.
"These are the kids that are working their tails off," Rhatigan said. "This meet is a reward. They don't get any recognition. This is their day."