Reunion This Weekend For 1976 Gymnastics National Champions
STATE COLLEGE, Pa., March 20, 2001 -- Members of Penn State's 1976 National Champion men's gymnastics team will gather for a 25th anniversary reunion during the Big Ten Gymnastics Championships at Rec Hall, March 23-24.
Former coach Gene Wettstone will join team members and others to celebrate the ninth team title of his longtime coaching tenure. Wettstone, 87, retired following the 1976 season after 37 years as the Nittany Lions' head coach. Wettstone developed 14 Olympic athletes in his brilliant career. He now lives here in the Foxdale Retirement Village.
Wettstone was a veteran member of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Committee and head coach of Team USA for the 1948 and 1956 Games. He organized more than a dozen American tours by foreign gymnastics teams.
Co-captains Ira Stolzer and Paul Fagan are among the former gymnasts expected to return for the weekend activities. Stolzer now is an executive for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City while Fagan owns a business in the Washington, D.C., area.
"This essentially was a home-bred, local team with few individual stars," Wettstone said "It was a squad that proved team unity and respect for teammates can yield top honors in gymnastics. "
The 1975-76 Lions posted a 7-1 dual record and scored 432.075 points to capture the NCAA Championship, staged at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Gene Whelan won the individual NCAA title on the parallel bars and placed second in the all-around. Whelan was the winner of the 1976 Nissen-Emery Award, the gymnastics equivalent of football's Heisman Trophy. He capped his career by capturing a berth on the '76 U.S. Olympic team.
Tom Dunn, now the head gymnastics coach at the University of Iowa, was Wettstone's assistant with the 1976 Nittany Lions and is among those who will attend the reunion.
Other team members who have accepted invitations include: Larry Butler, Jay Cooper, Robert Desidero, Paul Hunsinger, Kurt Pflieger, Rich Rhinehelder and manager Bran Ludwig.
The Nittany Lions returned to the National Championship stand a year ago to claim their first team title since 1976. Penn State has won 10 National Championships in men's gymnastics, more than any other institution.
Coach Randy Jepson's team will be in search of its first Big Ten Championship in the Rec Hall competition that will get underway on Friday, March 23 at 7:00 p.m. and continue Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Penn State's best finish in the conference final was second at Michigan in 1998.
The Nittany Lions were 12-5 during the regular season. Jepson's squad will look to defend its 2000 National Championship at Ohio State University, April 4-7.