Evan Eigner is facing one of the toughest decisions of his life.
Having just finished his sophomore season with the men’s gymnastics team, Eigner has been involved with Temple’s program for almost his entire life. Growing up as the son of coach Fred Turoff, Eigner started his gymnastics career through Temple’s boys’ gymnastics program, and stayed true to his roots by joining the Owls’ Division I squad last season.
After the Board of Trustees voted to eliminate the program last December, Eigner – like his teammates – now has to decide whether he wants to stay at Temple or try to transfer elsewhere to continue his gymnastic career at the Division I level. Campus Recreation head Steve Young confirmed to The Temple News earlier this month that the program will become a club sport next year.
“Right now, I’m leaning toward staying,” Eigner said. “But to leave would be tough because this is really all I’ve known for my whole life. In this sport, it’s been T.U.G.”
If Eigner does choose to leave, it will mean the end of working with his father in a sport that has been on a steady decline for the last couple of decades. That being said, Turoff is letting his son decide how he wants to continue his future in gymnastics.
“I’d be sad because I would like to have him stay with us,” Turoff said. “But if he does decide to transfer away, I’ll support him.”
With Temple’s program slated to be cut on July 1, the total number of men’s gymnastics programs at the Division I level will shrink to 16. A lack of outside options, along with the fact that many members of the team already feel established here in North Philadelphia, has resulted in many of Temple’s gymnasts opting to stay.
Grady Cooper couldn’t make the team during his freshman year and had to participate on the club team. Now, after competing at the Division I level during his sophomore year, he’s facing a return to a club sport.
“Temple is my home,” Cooper said. “I wouldn’t want to be on any other team with any other group of guys.”
Antone Wright’s Division I career concluded almost as soon as it started – he was a walk-on this year as a freshman. But even after just one season, Wright is sticking with Temple gymnastics.
“We’ve grown so close-knit,” Wright said. “It will be really hard just to leave it all. Even though we’re not a D-1 team, we’re still a team, and I just want to stick with my team.”
Besides camaraderie, finances were also involved with the gymnasts’ decision-making process. Student-athletes transferring out-of-state would have to consider the increased cost of tuition and living.
Casey Polizzotto realizes this reality, and it’s one of the reasons he said he will stay at Temple, despite holding three years of remaining eligibility.
“It’s hard to transfer into another gymnastics program, especially at a D-I level,” Polizzotto said. “For me, it’s hard for me to go outside of state without a scholarship because it would be more expensive.”
Sophomore Jon Rydzefski competed in the all-around this season for Temple and the NCAA Qualifying Competition in the category this year.
Even though that success could allow him to continue his Division I career somewhere else, Rydzefski doesn’t see the need to transfer.
“It was mostly the environment,” Rydzefski said. “I already made a life for myself here, so it would be difficult as a sophomore to uproot and start it all over again.”
Despite a large group returning for the club team next season, many admit that the club status won’t have the same feel as the program that has stood as a Division I program for 88 years.
“It probably will drop a little bit,” Rydzefski said.
Turoff said he isn’t surprised that many of his gymnasts are staying at Temple, as hopes to reinstate the team are quickly diminishing.
“I think they’re committed to Temple gymnastics,” Turoff said. “They’re certainly not as happy with Temple University at this point. But they know that Temple gymnastics has a strong history and tradition and they feel apart of it. And I want them to continue to feel a part of it, for the same reason I want to keep on coaching them.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveSportsGuy1.