Weekend meet could be last on home turf for Temple gymnasts

TEMPLE UNIVERSITY GYMNASTICS TEAM Jakob Welsh practices for the all-around event. Tonight's meet could be the Temple men's gymnastics team's last meet at home.
TEMPLE UNIVERSITY GYMNASTICS TEAM Jakob Welsh practices for the all-around event. Tonight's meet could be the Temple men's gymnastics team's last meet at home.
Posted: February 16, 2014

THE SNOWSTORM that socked the region Thursday all but shut down Temple University and the city - but the bitter cold and nearly a foot of snow couldn't keep the school's men's gymnastics team from meeting at McGonigle Hall as usual to practice for more than three hours.

"The snow didn't slow us down," Temple grad Alex Tighe, now a volunteer coach, said from the campus building's practice gym. "They all came in today, training for the meet."

The tri-meet Tighe mentioned is set for 7:30 tonight in the arena at McGonigle Hall, on Broad Street near Montgomery Avenue. The meet is poised to be a poignant matchup for the team as the Temple gymnasts prepare to face teams from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Since word came in December that Temple plans to eliminate seven varsity sports, including men's gymnastics, tonight could be the last-ever home competition for the Owls.

But at the men's workouts, there's been no room for downcast spirits or sadness.

"Everyone has their job to do," Tighe said. "We want to put on a good show for our home crowd. We want to give it one last hurrah to show the administration, 'Hey, we belong here,' so everyone is pushing hard to do their best."

The meet tonight is free and open to the public.

Jakob Welsh, 18, a freshman from Maryland, will be the one Temple gymnast to compete in tonight's all-around competition.

That means Welsh, who began gymnastics at age 2, following in his mother's footsteps, will compete in all six events: pommel horse, rings, high bar, parallel bars, floor exercise and vault.

Most gymnasts compete in one or two events in which they specialize.

Welsh, who is not attending Temple on a gymnastics scholarship, said that even if the decision to cut the gymnastics team is not reversed, he might stay at the North Philadelphia university next year.

Some students, though, say they might tranfer to other colleges to compete in NCAA-sanctioned events.

Still others say they hope that they can continue as a club gymnastics team if they can't persuade officials that they can fund their own operation. They've been trying to raise money to save the program, even posing for a beefcake calendar, which you can buy at ph.ly/TUmen.

For Welsh, it's about love - of the sport, of his fellow students and fans, and love for his team.

"It's kind of like a love," Welsh said, describing why he's giving all for his team. "We're trying to have a great home meet for all our fans and trying to have the biggest crowd ever."

Welsh said he couldn't imagine moving to another college team.

"I'd rather stay here and be on this team than any other team," he said.

It's a young team, with 15 freshmen and sophomores and only five upperclassmen.

John Leonard, a senior and the team co-captain, broke his elbow during a meet in January and has to sit out tonight.

Though he was told he may have to wait three months to compete again, Leonard is determined to be ready for two out-of-town meets in March and April.

"With such a young team, I feel bad to be out," Leonard said. "I will do everything in my power to be back by the conference championship at the end of March."

Though tonight's meet may be the team's last on home turf, they will still compete in both the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference meet in March at the Naval Academy and the NCAA conference championship in April in Ann Arbor, Mich.

For now, junior teammate Michael Bittner said, when the team practices together, they push thoughts about the program being cut out of their minds.

"We try to stay optimistic; we don't want to look at the negative side," said Bittner, a psychology major from Allentown.

"It's definitely in the back of our minds, but we leave it outside. When we're out at dinner as a team, we might talk about it. But in the gym, we focus on what we need to do."

On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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