Will boys' gymnastics program at Temple survive?

Posted: December 24, 2013

IN THE BACK of a gym at Temple University's Pearson-McGonigle Halls, a boy about 6 or 7 soared high into the air as he bounced on a trampoline.

He is among about 30 boys, ages 6 to 16, who train several days a week with Philadelphia Boys' Gymnastics for the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Program.

But since Dec. 6, when Temple officials announced that the men's gymnastics team would be dropped, the boys program is as up in the air as the boy on the trampoline, and no one has said whether the youngsters who train there will end up smiling.

"It's upsetting. It's hard to find a good boys gymnastics program," said Tony Capriotti of Levittown, Bucks County, whose 7-year-old son, Gianni, recently started at Temple.

"He was so excited. His birthday was in November and he said, 'Dad, you don't have to buy me a birthday gift, because you are bringing me to Temple for gymnastics.' "

Zaire Reid, 7, of Germantown, was only 5 or 6 when his mother, Karen Felder, noticed how athletic he was. "He was so strong," Felder said. "He was picking up the couch."

Felder began looking for gymnastics for boys and found out about the program at Temple.

Since starting last March, Zaire, a first-grader at Jenks Elementary in Chestnut Hill, has thrived. "He really likes it," Felder said.

The program started 11 years ago to meet the needs of boys in the Philadelphia area.

Several parents interviewed last week said there were plenty of gymnastics programs for girls, but hardly anything was available to boys.

At the gym last Monday night, boys whose parents were raised in North Philadelphia bonded with boys from the Main Line.

"Sport is a great equalizer, in that it depends on innate ability and training. It doesn't depend on how much money you have," said Fred Turoff, coach of the Temple men's gymnastics team.

"We have this variety of families here and they see their children cooperating and training together."

Turoff said he started the Philadelphia Boys' Gymnastics program to meet the needs of area boys and also to raise funds for the Temple men's team.

In addition to the boys program, both the men's and women's gymnastics teams also help out at Sunday clinics.

The clinics are for anyone, from girls and boys on cheerleading squads or drill teams to adults.

Alex Tighe, 23, graduated from Temple last week with a double major in applied mathematics and Spanish. He is coach of Level 5 & 6 boys, the highest level.

Tighe, who was considering staying at Temple for graduate school and continuing to work out with the men's team, isn't sure what will happen after June, if the decision to cut the men's team is final.

"I was thinking of sticking around," he said, but now "my plans are up in the air."

Tighe said most of the boys come to the gym early and often sit in the office and do their homework while the men's and women's teams finish practicing.

The college gymnasts love being role models as gymnasts and scholars to the younger students.

"We help them with their homework and make sure they're doing what they need to do to stay in school."

Ted Pearson, a historian who teaches at Franklin & Marshall College, said his sons Will, 15, and Owen, 12, have been attending gymnastics at Temple for about five years.

"They really like it," said Pearson, who brings the boys from their home in Merion. "It teaches them discipline, gives them physical fitness and mental alertness."

"If we lose this program, I don't know what we're going to do," Pearson said. "There's no boys gymnastics where we live."


On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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