Misha Kustin sat in the bleachers of McGonigle Hall as a wide-eyed recruit, nearly finished with his senior year of high school and eager to jump into competition at the college level.
Nearly four years later, the mechanical engineering major and six other seniors competed against the University of Washington on Feb. 18 at McGonigle Hall.
It was Temple’s only home meet of the season, and the final home meet of the seniors’ careers.
Temple lost to Washington by seven points but set a new season-high. The night was highlighted by a ceremony honoring what Kustin calls “the last real freshman class.”
Kustin, Wayne Conley, Patrick Henley, Jordan Motter, Casey Polizzotto, Jakob Welsh and Antone Wright were freshmen on the 2013-14 men’s gymnastics team, the final Division I squad before the university eliminated the program.
“It feels like we’re the last of an era,” said Wright, a senior kinesiology major.
In December 2013, the Board of Trustees approved a recommendation from former Athletic Director Kevin Clark to eliminate the men’s gymnastics program along with six other Division I programs, two of which were later reinstated. The Temple News previously reported that the cuts saved the university an estimated $3 million to $3.5 million.
Temple Gymnastics appealed to the Board, but the program was officially terminated on July 1, 2014.
“I’ve worked on this a lot, but I still have this bitter resentment towards Temple,” Kustin said. “All I wanted in high school was to compete in college gymnastics. I accomplished that goal, I made the team, and then Temple said, ‘Sorry, no more.’”
During Fred Turoff’s tenure as a Division I coach from 1976 to 2014, the team won 18 conference championships and produced 34 All-Americans and five NCAA champions. From 2012-14, the NCAA honored the program for its outstanding academic performance.
“[The university] decided they were going to cut the program, despite the fact that we were the academic leaders, we were successful, we had outstanding senior athletes and we brought in more tuition than the cost of the program,” Turoff said.
He has served as the volunteer head coach since the university eliminated the program. The club team cannot pay him for his services per Campus Recreation rules, Turoff said.
“Temple certainly didn’t appreciate loyalty or success or compliance,” he added. “They discarded me.”
Temple originally stayed in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference following its demotion, but the ECAC kicked Temple out at the end of last season.
“The important thing for us, because season averages don’t count anymore, is to be in great shape for March when the [USA Gymnastics Collegiate Championships] come,” Turoff said.
The Owls’ last meet of the season is the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs Championships in early April. When asked about watching the “last real freshman class,” compete in its final competition, Turoff refused to get sentimental.
“It’s the same thing as when any of my seniors leave,” Turoff said. “I’m sad to see them go, [but] I’m happy that they’re graduating, that they found something good to do with their time here.”
“Definitely a learning experience,” Wright said of his four years on the team. “But I probably wouldn’t change any of it.”
Ben Blaustein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.