By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- From 1939 through 1976, legendary men's gymnastics coach Gene Wettstone led Penn State to nine NCAA championships, 13 Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League crowns, over 200 meet victories, 35 individual national titles and 13 Olympians, while enriching the image of gymnastics on a campus that was better known for its football program.
With such outstanding accomplishments, the new gymnastics complex is being named the "Gene Wettstone Gymnastics Complex" to honor Wettstone, the record-holder for most NCAA team championships in men's gymnastics.
"It's a great tribute to Gene who really was Mr. Gymnastics," said head coach Randy Jepson. "Gene took gymnastics here, from really nothing, to the premiere sport at Penn State, aside from football. People would fill the arena at Rec Hall and basketball was never filled nor was wrestling, so he just did an outstanding job of promoting gymnastics and won more national championships than any other coach. He's a great, great coach."
Phase one of the complex is finished and phase two is in progress. The finished complex will showcase Wettstone's achievements throughout his 36 seasons as well as the success of the men's gymnastics program for nearly seven decades. There will be different displays throughout the lobby of the complex, including a wall dedicated for national champions, a wall for Olympians, an area for the Nissen-Emery winners and a curved trophy case for all the national championship trophies and accolades.
"It's an honor to [Wettstone], but to our guys, it's great to showcase the accomplishments of our teams over the years," said Coach Jepson. "We had that before, but now it's showcased in a way that is branded properly with the real amenities in today's day-and-age...It has liven this whole wing for gymnastics."
Though it's important to recognize the history of the program, the main focus is the future of men's gymnastics.
"The goal of the complex is to help secure the future for future student-athletes who want to be gymnasts, so it's a nice way to help them understand their responsibility in continuing the legacy that has been set before them, said Ira Stolzer, co-caption of the 1976 national champion men's gymnastics team. "It's a nice way to honor those that have done a nice job in representing the school and continuing the concept of excellence in classroom and excellence in athletics."
The idea for the complex came about a couple years ago, when Wettstone was approaching 100 years old. Stolzer and friends wanted to honor Wettstone and celebrate him, while helping the current gymnastics teams and the future of the program.
"We initiated the idea of naming the gymnastics workout complex after [Wettstone], so we worked with the university, went to their naming company and they agreed," said Stolzer. "Since it was during the "For the Future" campaign, we promised that we would form a committee of volunteers. We wouldn't take a disappropriate amount of time away from the development staff who were focused on the "For the Future" campaign. We wanted to make sure those funds could count towards the campaign and we formed a committee of five or six, focused on former gymnasts and family of gymnasts, and divided up the names and just got at it."
After reaching out to former Penn State gymnasts and former Penn State gymnasts' family and friends, Stolzer and the committee were able to raise nearly $500,000 in 90 days.
"I think some guys who came to Penn State that have never given before saw an opportunity to create their own legacy in supporting an institution that they have so much to be grateful for," said Stolzer.
In addition to the celebration of Wettstone and the men's gymnastics program, it was agreed that Coach Jepson could use the funds in the best interest of the team and the success of future teams.
"What Randy decided to do, which we're really happy with, he built the new locker room for the team because they didn't have their own," said Stolzer. "Hard to believe, but they didn't have their own, so they now have a really beautiful new locker room with some nice facilities with it. Steam room, conference room."
Because of last week's Big Ten Gymnastics Championships, Coach Jepson invited the alumni to Penn State to support the team and to do the Wettstone naming celebration.
"The team won the Big Ten title and it was a great weekend," said Stolzer. "It was a great group back and a good part of [the complex] is completed, but some is not. They had renderings to show us what it's going to look like when it's done. They've done a terrific job and it's going to look wonderful when it's done."
Even though the complex was only half done, Stolzer loved everything he saw.
"It was impressive," said Stolzer. "They've done a remarkable job there and I have to admit it, I got a little choked up when I saw it. This idea really came to be with a group of guys that really believed in continuing the legacy of gymnastics at Penn State and we couldn't be prouder."
The Gene Wettstone Complex is just one example of the pride that every Penn Stater contains."I think one of the most remarkable things about Penn State is Penn State's unbelievable ability to create such amazing loyalty, dedication and commitment to excellence with each and every graduating class, so when Penn Staters come back for a reunion or they come back to visit the school or they meet other Penn Starters around the country, there's an immediate prideful connection," said Stolzer. "It's really something to see and something to be part of and I'm
just glad to be part of it."