by Sue Ann Rybak
Zaire Reid, 7, of Chestnut Hill, loves gymnastics. Reid, a first grader at J.S. Jenks Elementary School, is one of 30 boys, age 6 to 17, who are members of Philadelphia Boys’ Gymnastics, the only competitive boys’ gymnastics program in Philadelphia.
“It’s important to stick your dismount,” said Reid, who practices in Temple University’s Pearson-McGonigle Hall three times a week. But Temple University’s recent decision to eliminate men’s gymnastics could put a stop to that.
While boys’ gymnastics has never been as popular as girls’ gymnastics, there have always been community gymnastics programs for boys until now.
Fred Turoff, who coaches Temple’s men’s gymnastics team, started the boys’ gymnastics program 11 years ago to fill a void in the community and help raise funds for the men’s gymnastics team.
Karen Felder, Reid’s mother, said she doesn’t know what she is going to do if Temple decides to cancel the program.
“There is no other competitive boys’ gymnastics team in Philadelphia,” said Felder, whose son has been taking lessons at Temple since March.
Felder, 42, who participated in gymnastics as a child, decided to enroll Reid in gymnastics because he was so rambunctious.
“As a child he was always getting into something,” Felder said. “He was so strong. He was always moving tables and chairs around. I had to do something to corral his energy.”
Felder said there are many inexpensive girls’ gymnastics programs in the area, such as the girls’ gymnastics program at Water Tower Recreation Center, but very few competitive programs for boys’ gymnastics.
“Since 1982, we’ve offered low-cost gymnastic instruction open to anyone in the Philadelphia area,” said Turoff, referring to the Philadelphia Boys’ Gymnastics’ Sunday Clinic Program, which is open to anyone, including adults.
Turoff estimated that the program has helped more than 2400 boys and girls learn the fundamentals of gymnastics. He said many of the boys who participate in the clinics decide later to join the boys’ competitive team.
Noting that Temple University has a beautiful facility, Turoff said the program is unique because kids have an opportunity to interact with Temple students, who are exceptional gymnasts.
“The coaches are members of Temple’s gymnastics team,” Felder said. “He [Reid] will often say ‘Look how strong these guys are. I want to do that.’”
Felder said the students are excellent role models.
“The idea of going to college and getting a scholarship in gymnastics becomes a possibility,” Felder said. “It’s not an unobtainable goal, but it takes commitment – and a good coach.”
Under Turoff’s tenure as head coach, Temple’s men’s gymnastics team has won 18 of 37 conference titles, produced five NCAA event champions, 34 All-American individual awards, and 10 U.S. National Team members.
Turoff said cutting collegiate gymnastics programs now will have a long-term effect on future generations of gymnasts.
“As the number of collegiate programs shrinks, the pool of skilled gymnasts will be affected,” Turoff said. “Since we’re the only established junior program for boys in Philadelphia proper, any boys affected by our loss will either seek programs farther away or possibly switch to another sport, thus diluting the talent pool Philadelphia supplies to our collegiate and national efforts.”
While things look bleak for Temple University’s men’s gymnastics team and Philadelphia Boys’ Gymnastics, it is not hopeless.
Turoff encourages anyone who disagrees with Temple University’s board of trustees and president to write letters and email them “so they know the value of keeping men’s gymnastics and how much poorer Temple would be without it.”
Turoff asks people to let their voices be heard by going to Templegymnastics.com, check the Save Temple Gymnastics online petition. For addresses of the president and board members visit the Temple University Men’s Gymnastics Facebook page.