Many great athletes or exceptional students or accomplished artists point to an older family member as inspiration in their growth and development to be the best they can be. But let’s flip the script with Tess Gompper, a senior at Pioneer High School who is simply an extraordinary impressive young woman in the classroom, on the playing field and most importantly in life.
And she’s following in the big footsteps of her older sister, Maya, but in slightly different ways as she makes her own path in this ever-changing world.
Instead of Tess talking about how big sister was the perfect role model, let’s hear from the perfect role model on her little sister. There is certainly enough pride to go around.
“I brag about her to my friends all the time, telling them about how smart she is, how excited I am that she is pursuing a career in computer science, and how proud of her I am for all of her work with Special Olympics,” says Maya. “I’ve never told her this, but I get choked up every time I watch her skate with her unified partner – she has grown up to be so kind, caring, intelligent and generous.
“I am so proud of the way that she uses her position in life to better the lives of others and how many people she has a positive impact on. I look forward to seeing where she goes in life, whether it be a career in Computer Science or Special Education (she can join me in my classroom!). She will be such a powerful force in her field and in the lives of those who care about her. I couldn’t be prouder!”
High praise indeed coming from someone also worthy of such praise. Maya was a two-time All-State First Team field hockey player at Pioneer who appeared in all 20 games at forward/midfield this past season as a junior at Michigan. She was named to the NFHCA Collegiate National Academic Team and Academic All-Big Ten.
While Tess isn’t on the same athletic path as her older sister, she has discovered a calling or passion in helping people. She was a Young Citizen of the Year finalist last year for her work with special needs skaters at the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club. She has partnered with a special athlete for four years at the Special Olympics winter games.
She also was a member of the Hockettes Unified team – a synchronized skating team made up of special needs athletes and mentor partners. They were scheduled to skate in the opening ceremonies of the World Synchro Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., this spring.
At Pioneer, Tess has a 4.0 GPA, was captain of the varsity figure skating team, played field hockey for three years and was a member of Women in STEM, the National Honor Society, and the Ocean Bowl team, among other activities.
She plans to major in computer science at McGill University in Montreal.
So, yeah, where to begin?
Let’s start with Grace – Grace Cregar.
“I got to know Grace in elementary school,” says Tess. “She has autism and I was paired up with her as a peer mentor in fourth grade, but we also became really good friends. It turned out that my private figure-skating coach was also Grace’s coach for Special Olympics. Once we made that connection, it only seemed natural for us to be Unified partners and I’ve loved every second of it.”
Tess and Grace won the gold medal in unified pairs at the Special Olympics Michigan winter games in January.
But this relationship isn’t about medals. It’s much more than that and it’s probably a tie when it comes to which one gets the most out of this “inspiring” pairing.
“Grace inspires me to be positive, to see the best in everything, and to not worry about things you can’t control,” Tess says. “Working with Grace and the other Special Olympics athletes is very rewarding, but that’s not why I do it. I do it because I truly love it. I get as much out of it as they do, if not more.
“I don’t feel like I’m ‘giving my time’ to them. I feel like we’re all just working together and having fun. I have definitely learned a lot about myself and have found creative ways of working with others.”
The Special Olympics motto for Unified Sports is “Choose to Include.” Tess plans on doing exactly that for as long as she continues to skate.
And she loves to skate.
“I’ve been skating ever since my parents signed me up for Learn to Skate at Vets when I was 4 years old,” she says. “I joined the Hockettes Synchro team in fourth grade and did that through middle school. In high school, I have focused on solo dance, skills testing, working with special athletes, and the high school team.”
The “high school team” is Ann Arbor Pioneer, a program that tends to skate under the radar. During Tess’s sophomore year, Pioneer combined with Skyline and Huron to form Ann Arbor United.
“Our first season as a combined team we made it to states and placed second overall,” Tess said. “This last season we struggled a little bit after losing so many seniors but placed better in each competition. I’m excited to see what this team does in the next few years.”
Tess was on JV Purple field hockey team at Pioneer her first two years and called them “some of my best memories.” She played varsity as a junior but decided to concentrate more on her skating as a senior.
Tess, daughter of Karen Watts and Dan Gompper, has kept quite busy at Pioneer. She not only scored a 4.0 GPA but also was involved in NHS, Ocean Sciences Quiz Bowl (10-12), Innovative Vehicle Design (10-11) and Women in STEM (11-12).
Of course, her senior year has been greatly influenced by what’s going on in the world these days and she definitely misses seeing everyone at school. “I also miss skating and the rink,” Tess said. “It’s pretty much the one sport you can’t do from home. I have been doing a lot of exercising to keep myself busy and I am trying to get back into the groove of working on school assignments.”
Her next school assignment will be north of the border at McGill University in Montreal, where she plans on majoring in computer science and joining McGill’s figure skating team either as a competitive or club member.
“I visited Montreal in the spring of my sophomore year and immediately fell in love with the McGill campus, which is nestled between serene Mont Royal and the bustling city,” she said. “After doing more research on the school and going to their summer program for high school students, I decided that they had everything I was looking for in a university. I love that the student body is so diverse and international.”
Tess says she is proud of many things over the last four years but her time with the Innovative Vehicle Team at Pioneer really stands out. “I am proud to be able to say that I was a part of a group that built a vehicle completely from scratch, but I am most proud of how hard we worked to keep the club alive at Pioneer when it seemed like everyone was against us.
“We put in a lot of time and effort talking to teachers and the administration to try to find support for our club and although we ultimately failed I learned a valuable lesson about perseverance.”
Speaking of pride and valuable lessons, let’s go full circle and wrap this up where we started – in the sister appreciation section. Of course, Tess is not only proud of her older sister but has tried to walk in her very big footsteps.
“Maya has worked really hard to get where she is,” Tess says. “When she makes up her mind to do something, she does it. That has been very motivating for me. But it hasn’t always been easy for her and I’m really proud of how she doesn’t let it bother her and just keeps working hard.
“From her experiences at Michigan, I have learned that life is not always fair but you still have to work hard and have a positive attitude to be the best player, teammate, athlete and student you can be.”
MAIN PHOTO: Mary Kerkes Photography