Jakob Welsh was seconds away from finishing his floor routine. By the time he was done, McGonigle Hall had erupted in support of the freshman gymnast.
“It was amazing,” Welsh said. “I was the first guy on floor, and when I saluted, everyone just yelled and the adrenaline rushed through my body.”
Welsh was the first Owl to compete in the men’s gymnastics team’s last home meet in 2014 on Saturday night – and if the athletic cuts announced in December stand, the final Temple-hosted event in program history.
For more than 80 years, Temple has fielded a men’s gymnastics team at the Division I level. After this season, the Owls will join a national trend in the decreasing of men’s gymnastics teams – only 16 colleges in the United States will field a team in the sport after Temple’s departure.
“I’ve had tremendous success with many guys,” 44th-year coach Fred Turoff said. “Looking at all the alumni that came back and seeing so many of my former team members and champions that came back, they have a good feeling about Temple gymnastics, and it’s going to be a sour feeling on Temple if we’re dropped.”
McGonigle Hall filled its gym one more time for the team, as around 700 spectators witnessed the Owls compete against the University of Illinois at Chicago and Air Force Academy. Several fans waved “Save Men’s Gymnastics” signs and sported “Keep Calm and Save Men’s Gymnastics” T-shirts.
“Competing here is a wonderful feeling,” freshman Casey Polizzotto said. “We had such big support this year, especially at this competition, and it was just an exciting moment and sad moment altogether. But overall, I was very happy with [the atmosphere].”
Even for seniors like Scott Haddaway, it was bittersweet recognizing that this could be the end of the line for many of his teammates.
“I don’t think I could ask for a better final home meet,” co-captain Haddaway said. “The stuff about the cuts and whether or not we’re going to get past it is always on our minds, but it was a great turnout. I haven’t seen any bigger.”
As the evening progressed, Turoff was helping run the event in every way possible. Before the meet, he checked the computer at the announcers’ table to ensure that the scoring and technology were working properly. Next, he made a round by the scoring displays making sure they were in check. During the meet, he was handing out scoring sheets to referees.
But above all else, Turoff was coaching as he has for the past four decades. At one point during the competition, sophomore Grady Cooper attempted his usual dismount on the rings. However, it was not his night as he face-planted into the mat below. Turoff said he couldn’t care less about the 12.100 score Cooper received, as the coach’s first instinct was to make sure his athlete was OK.
Whether it’s a broken vacuum cleaner or new equipment needed on a still-ring apparatus, Turoff has a large amount of direct involvement with his squad. After all of these years, he said he understands a good “gymnastics crowd” when he sees one.
“I thought we had a terrific crowd,” Turoff said. “They were supportive of everybody, they appreciated good gymnastics, and of course they were really supportive of my guys, which is appreciated.”
Turoff’s only son, Evan Eigner – a sophomore on the team – said he doesn’t want to see that support end.
“Hopefully this isn’t our last time competing,” Eigner said. “Having this crowd is special, it means a lot to see everybody come and support us.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveSportsGuy1.