by Sue Ann Rybak
In anticipation of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, Philadelphia Boys’ Gymnastics (PBG), the only competitive gymnastics program for boys in Philadelphia, is hosting an open house to celebrate Olympic Day, a nationwide effort to publicize the Olympic Games, on Sunday, June 26, from 2 to 5 p.m. at its new facility in an industrial complex in Germantown at 4700 Wissahickon Ave.
Held annually on June 23, Olympic Day commemorates the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1894.
PBG Coach Fred Turoff, who is also coach of the Temple University men’s gymnastics team, said Olympic Day’s mission is to promote fitness, well-being, culture and education, and to teach kids Olympic values: excellence, friendship and respect.
Turoff, 69, also noted that Olympic Day is an opportunity for youth and adults to try out a new sport or activity they have never done before.
Turoff created the boys’ competitive gymnastics program at Temple University in 2003 after two other local programs – Cherry Hill Gymnastics Academy and Macey’s Gymnastics Academy in Feasterville – closed, and parents from those two terminated competitive teams asked him if he would start one.
Turoff eventually asked Temple if he could start the boys’ team and use it as a fundraiser for the men’s program. Temple agreed.
Ironically, he said Temple played a key role in his journey to become a competitive gymnast as a young man. As a student at Leeds Junior High School in Cedarbrook, he took the bus and the subway to Temple University for Friday night gymnastic clinics in Conwell Hall.
“I learned about Temple’s clinics through the Philadelphia Public League’s Boys Gymnastics Team at Leeds Junior High School,” he said. The junior high school gymnastics league gave me a home where I got the [gymnastics] bug.”
Later, he joined the Mannettes competitive gymnastics team located at the Mann Recreation Center at Fifth Street and Allegheny Avenue run by Bill Coco, a former Temple University men’s gymnastics team member and Germantown High School teacher.
Turoff said being able to work out and train with college athletes as a junior high and high school student was a great experience.
Unfortunately, by the time he returned to Temple as a student-athlete in the mid-1960s, the clinics had stopped, but he never forgot how they helped nurture his love of gymnastics.
In 1976, Turoff became the coach of Temple’s men’s gymnastics team and six years later, he began holding the clinics as a way to promote gymnastics.
So, naturally, when he began Temple University Boys’ Gymnastics, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, in 2003, it was a huge success.
Unfortunately, in 2014 Temple decided to eliminate funding for the men’s gymnastics team. While men’s gymnastics still exists today as a club at Temple University, the boys’ competitive gymnastics program at Temple University was terminated.
“A year ago, we were told that we couldn’t continue running the program at Temple, so I had to find a place to relocate,” he said. “Ironically, our new location used to be the site of Mancino Mat Manufacturing Company. They made gymnastic mats there. It turns out that some of the mats we use were made here. I guess you could say ‘they came home.’”
Turoff, a Philadelphia native, said he was determined to find a location within the city limits.
“I chose to remain in Philadelphia because I want city kids to have access to gymnastics,” he said. “And with sport programs no longer existing in many of Philadelphia public schools, PBG provides an opportunity for boys to get training in gymnastics.
“When I was a youngster in the Philadelphia Public School System every junior high and high school had a gymnastics team. Philadelphia was a hotbed for gymnastics back then. But, that ended long ago.
“Being a men’s gymnastics coach, I am quite keen on keeping men’s and boys’ gymnastics alive in Philadelphia. Even though we [ Temple men’s gymnastics] are no longer supported by the Athletic Department at Temple, we are a competitive club and we still compete collegially.”
He added that his program is unique because almost all of the coaches are members of the Temple University gymnastics team.
“In essence, they are giving back to the community,” he said. “They have been through the USA Gymnastics Junior Program, so they know what it’s like. Everyone who coaches here can do the skills. Not only can the coaches demonstrate the moves, but they are also great role models. All of these gymnasts are good students as well as good athletes.”
It’s one of the things that drew Warrington resident Carol Errichetti, 50, whose son Tyler is on the PBG’s competitive team, to the program.
“The heart of gymnastics is here,” she said. “I love the fact that the coaches model everything that they are teaching.”
She added that the interaction between the boys and their coaches is terrific.
“It’s like the kids have known each other for years,” said Errichetti, who is a teacher. “The club is very family oriented. It’s really all about the boys. It’s a great place for them to build their self-esteem, feel supported and have fun. And their coaches, who are members of the Temple University men’s gymnastics team, really make that happen for them.”
She said her 14-year-old son was taking classes at another gym, but it didn’t have a competitive boys’ team.
“Since joining three months ago, he has learned six new skills,” she said.
She added that her son recently asked to increase his time at PBG from three days a week to five days a week.
When the Local asked her son why he liked gymnastics, he replied, “You do a lot of cool and interesting things in gymnastics. Since it’s challenging, you have to be really determined to reach your goal.”
Mt. Airy resident Janet Hayes, 35, a personal trainer, said there is a strong sense of camaraderie among the boys at PBG, even though they are in different levels.
Hayes said that before coming to PBG, her 7-year-old son Julian, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), took tumbling classes at the Little Gym.
“He was the only boy,” she said. “He really wasn’t comfortable there. Julian is really social and outgoing, and he really couldn’t interact with the girls the same way. We wanted to go some place where the level of training would be better and there would be more boys.
“This place is fantastic. Julian has so much energy. This space is such a release for him. Our therapist actually recommended that gymnastics be part of his therapy for sensory development.”
She added that many child psychologists and therapists recommend gymnastics because of its “intense level of exercise.”
Mt. Airy resident Megan Williams, 46, whose 8-year-old son Gus DeLuca is a level-four competitive gymnast at PBG, agreed with Hayes’ statement.
She said Gus, who is a twin, was born premature at 29 weeks, and his therapist recommended that he participate in gymnastics.
“When he was born, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital did an MRI and discovered bleeding into the white matter,” she said. “They told us he was going to have gross motor skill problems. I think the doctor’s exact words were, ‘We don’t know if he will be able to feed himself. But, he definitely won’t be a violinist.’”
She said the therapists suggested that she buy a trampoline so he could work on his motor skills.
“I came home from work one day,” she said, “and the babysitter said he had taught her how to do a front flip and I said ‘you are kidding.’ Gus just loves gymnastics. Now, I can’t get him to stop flipping.”
Williams has no doubt that her son will soar above the doctor’s expectations. In fact, he has no motor skill deficiencies.
For more information, about PBG call Fred Turoff at 215-204-7452 or go to www.philadelphiaboysgymnastics.org.