Donabedian is the leader of a new era for Temple Gymnastics

Brooke Donabedian’s artistry and leadership has become a part of Nilson’s culture shift for Temple Gymnastics.

Temple Gymnastics looks to bounce-back after last seasons struggles with the help of a new coach and an experienced roster. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple gymnast Brooke Donabedian’s passion for the sport has produced results during the past two seasons. The beam and floor specialist qualified for her second straight NCAA Regionals on March 20, a big accomplishment for a competitor who is only a junior.

However, she is solidifying her legacy within Temple Gymnastics in more ways than one. 

Although Temple Gymnastics’ social media show “TUG Talk” almost ended after one season when former student, team member and assistant coach Jackie Terpak left the team, Donabedian had a plan to keep the series alive. 

“I think it’s important for the girls to have their voices heard,” said Donabedian, who is also the host. “Typically, we pick people who performed best the week before the show, and I thought it was really important for each girl to have the platform to be heard.”

Donabedian’s excitement for the show is just one example of how she factors into head coach Josh Nilson’s vision for Temple gymnastics. Her success this season, including leading the team in event wins and tying multiple school records, marks the beginning of a cultural shift for the program and could be a small sample of the Owls’ future under Nilson.

When Nilson became Temple’s head coach in July 2018, he had a specific vision for the Owls. 

Nilson wanted to flip the program on its head, emphasizing the artistry of gymnastics rather than the power, which is an increasingly prevalent mindset in modern gymnastics. He also wanted the team to act as a family with gymnasts bringing the best out of one another.

The shift in identity pushed Nilson toward recruiting Donabedian. Nilson recognized Donabedian’s talent and finesse after watching one of her highlight videos, which she attributes to her experience with ballet, hip-hop dance and soccer, and he felt she could help bring his vision to life at Temple.

“If you took a picture of Brooke during any one of her events, it could be a poster,” Nilson said. “Perfect hands, perfect feet; the very definition of our sport. When I saw her gymnastics, I knew she could help me change the reputation of this program.”

In 2018, Donabedian traveled to Philadelphia with her family to have lunch with Nilson at the now-closed Draught Horse Pub and Grill. Although Nilson was a few minutes late, Donabedian was sold on his goals for the program; she committed later that year. 

Donabedian saw that Nilson wanted his program to have a type of flair and camaraderie, two things she was capable of bringing. 

“[Nilson] talks about how competitive he is all the time,” Donabedian said. “It really shows his motivation and drive. He wants and needs to build Temple gymnastics. There was a fire in his voice, and I loved it.”

During her official visit to Temple the following summer, Donabedian met Renee Schugman, another incoming freshman and her future roommate. Schugman was also a recruit whose artistry earned her a spot in the program. 

Similar to Nilson, Schugman knew immediately that Donabedian would be a key part of the team as soon as they practiced together.

“She’s always very confident,” Schugman said. “But when she’s performing, it’s like you’re watching a show. Everything she does is so perfect and precise. It’s so impressive.”

Three years later, Donabedian became an important part of the team. She qualified for NCAA Regionals last season, earned her second-straight first-team all-EAGL nomination on the floor, and was also named second-team all-EAGL on the beam this season. 

She leads the Owls with seven event wins this season with five on the floor and two on the beam. On March 5, she tied her own school record for an individual score on the floor, receiving a 9.950. 

Her leadership has impacted the team as well. Despite an up-and-down season, Temple’s scores have increased throughout the year, including a 196.375 March 5 against Fisk, Ursinus and Southern Connecticut State. This was the program’s third-highest score in school history and it was possible in large part to the tight-knit program being united under one vision. 

“The conversations we had are starting to come to fruition,” Nilson said. “[Donabedian] is having the success she deserves in college. She’s doing exactly what we wanted, and it’s working.”

As Temple prepared for the EAGL Conference Tournament, which began on March 18, Donabedian’s success served as validation for Nilson’s revitalized vision for the program. Though Nilson admits the team is a few missing parts away from his dream for the squad, Donabedian remains optimistic.

Now, Donabedian is on the way to Pittsburgh from March 30 through April 2 as a floor exercise competitor at the NCAA Regionals. She views her team’s success as a sign of the future, and, hopefully, a return to contention both in the EAGL and nationally.

“We had great performances,” Donabedian said. “We broke records last year, and we’re still breaking records this year. I think that will be a trend for years to come.”

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