A hard fall for Temple gymnasts and coach

Sophomore Grady Cooper practicing on Friday, after Temple said seven varsity teams would be cut. "Most of the guys have been doing this since ages of 3, 4 years old," a teammate said.
Sophomore Grady Cooper practicing on Friday, after Temple said seven varsity teams would be cut. "Most of the guys have been doing this since ages of 3, 4 years old," a teammate said. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 09, 2013

What more does a university want?

What more can a team do?

The Temple University men's gymnastics team - cut on Friday along with six other varsity squads as of July 1 - won its conference the last two seasons, and 18 of the last 36.

It had the highest grade-point average - 3.4 - of any team on campus, and third highest nationally in its sport, one that includes Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Army, Navy, and Air Force academies.

The 19 young men who make up the Temple gymnastics team live together, train together, take classes together, and wept together on Friday when they were given the news.

"I was heartbroken, honestly," said Blaise Cosenza, 20, a sophomore from Bethlehem. "I started when I was 2 with mommy-and-me classes."

"Most of the guys have been doing this since ages of 3, 4 years old," added Scott Haddaway, a junior from Baltimore. "It's especially rough for us."

Colton Howard, 20, just transferred to Temple last summer from Grapevine, Texas, where he attended the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy. Friday after practice, he walked around with bags of ice taped to his left knee and right shoulder.

Isn't that cold?

"Very cold," he said. "Your body's not made to do this stuff."

A mechanical-engineering student, Howard said his studies are hard, "but a lot less brutal on your body." When asked what he loved most about gymnastics, he replied: "To be honest, the relationships. The people who get you where you are. My teammates past and present. My coaches are like father figures. Everyone pushes each other really hard.

"This is just such a big disappointment," he added. "All the sacrifices we've made, the work we've done."

Always learning

Evan Eigner, 20, a sophomore from Philadelphia, lives with three teammates, all of whom are sports and recreation management majors. He is at 6 a.m. practices with them. He studies with them. Eats vegetables with them.

"For me, personally, whether I'm in here or not, I think about it 24/7. It's who we are."

He said the beauty of gymnastics is that you're always learning something new. His specialty is the rings. And Friday, even after hearing the crushing news, he learned a new dismount - a full twisting double back, which is two flips and one full twist.

"It's very difficult," Howard said.

Like his teammates Friday, Eigner wasn't thinking about transferring or surrendering. "We're trying to fight this. They tried to kill Berkeley's program a couple years ago and they raised enough money to save it. We've already started making calls."

38 years

Money may not be enough. Temple's Board of Trustees has already approved the cuts, which they say will save $3 million. The coaches and athletes were told that budget shortfalls and Title IX, which requires parity between men's and women's sports, were the reasons for the cuts. Five men's teams and two women's teams are being cut.

Fred Turoff is the head coach. He was a star gymnast at Temple, did graduate work in physics there, decided he loved coaching more, and became the team's assistant coach for six years. He's been head coach for the last 38.

When he started as head coach, the United States had 138 varsity gymnastics teams. Today it has 17.

The facts as he explains them: The team's budget is $51,000. He raises - as required - at least $29,000. The other costs include his salary, around $60,000 and benefits, and four scholarships, which he carves up among his athletes.

But he also says 15 of 19 students get no athletic scholarship and pay tuition. "We're bringing money into the university."

He has created an endowment - $71,000 so far - hoping for $1 million to guarantee the program's survival for the future. If the team can't be saved, the money goes to other gymnastics teams in the Eastern College Athletic Conference.

"We still have a season to go through," Turoff told his team Friday. "Compete well and be good students. That's what Temple gymnastics is known for."

He said his team surely got a lesson in life Friday.

"The message is, the bottom line is financial. The easy way to take care of budget shortfalls is cut programs, not raise money or find new revenue."

When asked what's going to happen to him, Turoff, 66, replied: "I'm not a football or basketball coach, so I don't get a severance package."

He has the smallest coach's office on campus, but after a lifetime at Temple, he doesn't see how he'll get it cleaned out by June 30, his last day.


mvitez@phillynews.com

215-313-3518

@michaelvitez

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