When coach Fred Turoff learned that the program he has helmed for the past 38 years would be getting cut, he was in disbelief.
“My team has done everything you want a collegiate athlete to do,” Turoff said. “The team has represented the university well and led it academically, so I don’t see why we were subject to being cut.”
The athletic department cited budget issues and Title IX as reasons for the cuts, but Turoff is in the process of scheduling meetings with Board of Trustees members for further explanation and a chance to plead his case.
The team has been no slouch in terms of athletic performance, winning two straight Eastern College Athletic Conference titles and four in the last seven years. The program also impacts the community, running a Sunday clinic and a boys’ team that gets Philadelphia youth involved by competing in the sport, as well as introducing them to Temple.
But one of the program’s biggest assets has been its academic performance. It was Turoff’s first defense when he was told the decision was final.
“[Academics] was the first thing that came into my mind because [Athletic Director Kevin Clark] said there is no recourse or amount of money that will bring the team back,” Turoff said. “So my first thought was, ‘This is going to hurt the university academically.’”
“We always push them for academics and we try to be the ideal student-athlete, with the emphasis on the student,” Turoff added.
The team has had the best grade point average of any team at Temple for most of the past three years and finished in the Top 3 out of all college gymnastics programs in the country in that same span, including the No. 1 spot in 2011 with an average GPA of 3.59. On top of that, the program’s academic progress rate is a perfect 1000, according to the most recent data.
A university spokesperson acknowledged both the academic and athletic success of the program, but did not comment on any potential effect on the department’s overall academic performance.
“They all know the importance of academics when we talk to them individually and as a team, and also the upperclassmen will try and further show that to the underclassmen,” Turoff said. “We have a history of doing well academically, and we have a history of graduating people, so that is certainly important to me. As much as I want them focusing on gymnastics all day long, they’re out here to get an education and have a career doing something that they want.”
“I think the normal tone is, ‘Grades are the most important thing and we’re going to be professional outside of gymnastics,’” third-year assistant coach and alumnus Patrick McLaughlin said. “We consistently talk on that, but really in terms of what you actually get to witness in here is just nothing but hard work.”
McLaughlin was named Temple’s Male Student-Athlete of the Year and ECAC Senior Gymnast of the Year in 2011. The assistant coach job allowed him to remain around a team that continues to impress him with their motivation.
“I’m consistently amazed at how hard people can work and how hard these guys just work for very little material or external gains,” McLaughlin said. “It’s really like an intrinsic motivation that they have, so I think in terms of a team mentality, it’s one of the purest forms of just coming in and doing your work.”
That mentality goes outside the gym. Freshman Misha Kustin, who joined the team as a walk-on, was always a decent student. However, he said, it picked up when he got to Temple.
“Here it becomes, as one of the few D-I teams, that it counts especially showing off,” Kustin said. “So that’s always in the back of our minds, that academics are a part of it.”
“But then, in general, Fred and Pat are big about, ‘Let’s get the grades going, work as hard as you can in the gym, but if there’s a class that is going to interfere with it, take the time off and do what you need to,’” Kustin added. “You work hard in and outside of the gym. You’re always working towards something, and academics are one of the places where we do.”
The team has shifted focus toward the upcoming season in the month since the announcement of the cuts, but has continued to make every effort to save itself, despite the warnings that it would do no good.
Steve Bohnel and Nick Tricome can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.