DEAN: But yes in the 1970s for NCAA, they were held at Penn State, just before the meet started, a young man walked out with a stocking on his head, went to the corner, raised his hand, did a round off flip flop back somersault and ran off the floor with the policemen chasing him.
JESSICA: See, no one believed me! I wasn’t making it up!
DEAN: Yeah, yep.
[Express Yourself intro music plays]
JESSICA: Today, the best gym myth busters we’ve ever done on this show, and there’s two of them. Plus three interviews.
ALLISON TAYLOR: Hey gymnasts. Elite Sportz Band is a cutting edge compression back warmer that can protect your most valued asset, your back. I’m Allison Taylor on behalf of Elite Sportz Band. Visit elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back.
JESSICA: This is Episode 65 for December 13, 2013. I’m Jessica from Master’s Gymnastics.
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym.
JESSICA: And this is the number one gymnastics podcast ever, in the history of human kind, bringing you the most fascinating people in gymnastics. Today is an all interview show about NCAA. This is our last show of the year. Look forward to some classic episodes over the next two weeks while we recharge our batteries. There’s also something super super super exciting going on right now. Stitcher is doing their yearly awards and we have been nominated. YES! So as of this recording, we are ranked number 30 for all sports shows. We are beating, they only ranked the top 100. And we are beating some of the top names in sports, people who have their own TV shows. We are beating them in the awards. This is a huge deal. We are also the only sports show ranked in the top 50 that has a female lead host, that would be me and focuses primarily on women and women’s sports. In the whole top 100, I could only find one other show that has a female host and I couldn’t find any that focus on women’s sports. We are going to make gymnastics more popular than football. We can do it! We’re already beating these shows that like just talk about football. We can do it you guys. I’m so excited! You can help by voting every single day for us. So you go on Stitcher, you like them on Facebook and then you can vote. And you can vote for us in the sports podcast category and anything else you want. Whatever you want to, there’s a bunch of categories. Best interview of the year might be another category that we would fit well into. Just suggesting. So let’s take over the straight male dominated sports radio world and let’s kill it in these awards. Okay. Next, what’s going on on our site. There’s a new guide to NCAA balance beam rules which are freaking hilarious. You should check it out. Look for an end of the year survey coming out soon. We always ask you at this time of the year what you like about the show, what you don’t like about the show, what do you want to see more of. We want to find out what you want out of the show and make the show more of what you want. So we need your opinion. So look for that when we put it up for two or three weeks. If you love the show, as always, you can find transcripts of the show. Thanks to our fantastic transcription team. We love love love them. (makes kiss noises) to our transcribers. You can send us a voicemail on Skype at Gymcastic Podcast. That’s our username. Or call us at 415-800-3191. You can tell us what you think of everything by contacting us. Just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We read all of your emails. Shop at our Amazon store. If you want to support the show, there’s a link. Just start there when you’re Amazon shopping and a little portion of what you spend will go back to us. We also have a fantastic gym nerd holiday gift guide which you should definitely check out. You can also support us by downloading the Stitcher app of course. It works on all devices including Android and the thing I love about it is that it doesn’t take up storage space on your phone. And as we know, storage space is a premium so that’s why I use it a lot. I also found a lot of other podcasts that I like. You can subscribe to us via email. You can also recommend us on Facebook. Tell your friends. Do a flyaway off bars and then yell in the air, “I love Gymcastic podcast. Everyone should listen to it and vote for us on the Stitcher awards.” You can rate us or write a review. And of course, you guys asked for a way to support the show directly so you can donate. It’s the holiday giving season so if you want to donate, who are we to say no to it? So first up today we have Dean Ratliff. He’s a judge. He has been judging for 28 years. I know him because he judged when I was coaching high school in Seattle and I had no idea what I was doing. Me and my friend Lisa were judging. He helped us so much and he was awesome and I’ve just loved him ever since. So he is a USAG national rated judge. He’s also an assigner and he has a fourteen-year-old daughter who is a former gymnast, now a swimmer. And I’m so glad to have him on the show. So before we get started with Dean, I just want to thank you guys for listening this year. We will see you after the new year with a very special New Year’s show. Until then, enjoy the interviews. Let us know what you think. Remember to email Fred Turoff at Temple University to help save the men’s program. Vote for us on the Stitcher awards and thank you all so much for your support this year and a have wonderful, wonderful holiday.
UNCLE TIM: Our interview with Dean Ratliff is brought to you by TumblTrak. So I was perusing TumblTrak’s website and I think that I found the greatest invention of all time. It’s the slider. I’m not talking about those mini hamburgers that dudes eat while watching football games. I’m talking about these slippery objects similar to furniture movers. Every gym can use them. So they are perfect for strength and conditioning. At my old gym, we used to use Frisbees but with Frisbees, you have to worry about the boys chucking the Frisbees and unintentionally hitting the little preschooler over in the corner working on her skin-the-cat. With sliders, you can build core and arm strength by putting the gymnast in prone position and putting the sliders under their feet and making them walk their hands while dragging their feet from one end of the floor to the other. You can even make it into a little race. And the best part, with the sliders, you don’t have to worry about the boys chucking the sliders like Frisbees and bonking some unsuspecting preschooler in the head. #winning. So to check out the sliders and other TumblTrak products, head over to tumbltrak.com. That’s tumbltrak.com.
JESSICA: Yay! So thank you for joining us today. And I want to tell everybody how we met originally. So I used to coach high school at Garfield High School in Seattle which is known for many reasons. One, for having shootings at the high school. Another for having, was it Bruce Lee and Jimi Hendrix went there very briefly I think? How could Bruce Lee have
DEAN: And Quincy Jones
JESSICA: And Quincy Jones! Yes that’s right!
DEAN: Oh and the guy with the soprano, whatever it’s called clarinet thing? Kenny G!
JESSICA: Kenny G, oh my God that’s so awesome. I didn’t know about him. It’s such a fascinating school because it’s a magnet school. It’s an academic magnet school but people kind of considered it like the bad neighborhood, bad area of Seattle, which I absolutely loved it. And it was surrounded by Ethiopian restaurants, which was also my favorite thing, where we took our team to dinner. So we met because I had no idea what I was doing coaching high school with my friend Lisa. I didn’t even know high school gymnastics existed anymore. I thought it was all destroyed in the 70s. And it was just the most fun, exciting best experience of my life and you were part of that because you didn’t laugh hysterically in my face when I would ask really stupid questions because I didn’t know what I was doing. So what is it like judging high school? Can you describe it for people who have never experienced this?
DEAN: Well you know it’s a lot like college you know because it’s a whole team environment in the school and the students come out to support their teams. And there’s a lot of cheering and fanfare that goes on at those types of things. What I find really cool is you get to really see in the three month period of the season, the kids improve. So many kids, they don’t do club. Maybe they did club in their past. Maybe they’ve never done club before. If you happen to see a team early on in the season and then later, you’re just going wow these coaches and athletes are amazing because they’ve improved so much in just a couple of weeks. I found that so cool.
JESSICA: Yeah we had absolute beginners who had never done gymnastics before in their entire lives to level tens on the same team. And everybody had to learn to be a team and support each other. And I think what you’re describing is why it was so gratifying and fun to do because you could see those changes and yeah. It’s fun. We had one girl who was Muslim and it was during Ramadan so she couldn’t eat anything and she had to cover up her whole body and she’d never done gymnastics before. She could barely stand up, she was so tired from not eating. And then because she was a high school student and she was fierce, she wore leopard print leggings, long ones down to her ankles to be covered down to her feet underneath her leotard and then the same leopard print (our colors were purple) arm bands or sleeves. She was just oh my God. She was the best. I was just like I love this. This is like an experience she’s never going to have again and she totally gets to be her own person right now. And it was a really weird routine but it was very entertaining. And she was just like glowing afterwards. She was so happy. What are some of the most interesting or unusual things you have seen judging high school gymnastics?
DEAN: Oh gosh. There’s so many creative things people come up with. I mean sometimes coaches and athletes will come up with a routine where they choreograph a fall in there (this is on bars) just so that they can get their bar changes in and by doing this feel that they have no hope of ever meeting. But as long as they touch the other bar, they get credit for the skill and can count as their bar change. So you know, it ups their start value a lot. So that goes on. You do see the interesting uniforms like you mentioned. That’s always very creative.
JESSICA: Very creative yes.
DEAN: Yes, yes. And you know it’s funny. I’m the technical director for our program here in the state. So I get those types of questions like okay we have this athlete who is whatever religion and they can’t do this. And you know, it’s funny because I’ll go and search the internet. Like if they’re Muslim, I will search various Muslim countries’ web pages and search for pictures just to see what they actually wear in competition. They don’t often take it well but I’m like well here’s all the pictures of the Egyptian national team and they’re wearing leotards. Here’s the Algerian team and the Indonesian team and they’re all wearing leotards. So do what you need to do but just know, it’s actually acceptable in many cases. So you do get that. Oh I had one recently where a girl has quarter or maybe even half dollar sized gauges in her ears.
DEAN: Yeah this was an interesting one. I was like well that’s actually kind of jewelry and they argued back saying, well if we take it out, she’s got this big floppy thing. And I’m like well yeah that’s kind of an interesting situation. Hmm maybe you counsel her on her life choices because that’s not going to look good as she progresses through life. But I guess we’re going to have to like tape those up or something. I don’t want her to stick her finger through the hole in her ear.
JESSICA: Oh my God, I never would have thought of that. I guess that wasn’t really very, well you didn’t see that very often and now it’s really common to have the big ass hole in your ear.
JESSICA: Oh my God, what if you’re spotting and you stuck the finger through the hole in her ear and ripped her….oh my God. Thank God I never coached anyone with gauges. Oh jeez.
DEAN: Yeah exactly.
JESSICA: So while we’re on the topic of jewelry, let’s discuss this because there are a lot of myths. Ok we play this game on the show, which you’re familiar with, gymnastics myth busters. And we’ll do the NCAA judging edition with you. So let’s start with makeup and jewelry. Is it true that you cannot wear any makeup and no jewelry including piercings and nail polish?
DEAN: So for NCAA, which follows the USAG rules also with that, jewelry, you get one set of stud earrings, on in each ear. That’s it as far as jewelry goes. Makeup, you can wear whatever you like. Now coaches will a lot of times tell their athletes no makeup, no fingernail polish, get it all off. That’s actually their rule, not a rule outside of their own gym.
DEAN: Yeah I know There’s going to be a lot of uproar over that one. And in high school, each state actually has their own high school rules. They vary by state. In Washington, there is no jewelry allowed whatsoever. There’s no warning. It’s an automatic zero if they wear jewelry.
JESSICA: So even if you wear earrings?
DEAN: Even earrings.
JESSICA: (gasps) Oh my gosh! I had no idea!
DEAN: Yeah and that’s to be consistent with other sports. You know, soccer doesn’t allow it. Swimming doesn’t allow it. So our state’s governing body said you know we need you guys to have a rule about jewelry also. No jewelry. Okay fine.
JESSICA: So what about NCAA?
DEAN: It’s the same as USAG. One set of stud earrings.
JESSICA: So you could wear, just throwing it out there, you could wear stud earrings and then you could paint your face to look like a tiger and compete and that would be fine with tiger nails to match.
DEAN: It would be. So many of the athletes, they are quite small, wear the face tattoos and it takes up their whole cheek.
JESSICA: (laughs) That’s true! Okay so let’s talk about face jewelry because this is something we’ve been seeing. Of course we cannot get enough of the story of the girl who fell on her face and slid down the beam with the little stud piercing, which she had like a jewel glued to her face. So it gave her a giant scratch down her face. Are those considered jewelry or is that makeup?
DEAN: I would consider it makeup. I’ve never seen anything written, in writing about that, so I would consider it makeup and not worry about it. I think jewelry pertains to like objects hanging on you or going through you like a piercing sort of thing. It’s a good question and I have not seen anything in writing about stick on jewels.
JESSICA: Interesting. Oh my gosh I’m so excited. Okay so what about hair? Could you compete with a Mohawk? Because you know this is my dream for someone to compete with a full Mohawk.
DEAN: (laughs) You could. Your hair is just supposed to be kept out of your face.
JESSICA: So as long as it’s sticking straight up and doesn’t hit your hands or the floor then that could work. Oh my gosh.
DEAN: It could touch your hands. You’re just supposed to look sort of tidy sort of thing.
JESSICA: Okay so what about in NCAA when people do their hair so that it’s all tied back, it’s away from their face, but when they flip, their ponytail like whacks them in the face. Don’t count that?
DEAN: You just go with it. I mean the only thing I’ve heard other judges moan about and probably a lot of people moan about is really messy ponytails.
JESSICA: Mmm yes.
DEAN: You know where there’s hair sticking out all over the place. It looks like a cat’s tail and the cat’s real excited.
JESSICA: (laughs) A cat on Halloween.
DEAN: Yes exactly! But you know, there’s no rule against it. It’s just well if you want to present yourself like that, go for it.
JESSICA: Oh my gosh, this is the best myth busters. I thought we had the best myth busters yesterday, but this is even better. Oh my gosh. Okay. Is it true that judges in NCAA can take an artistry deduction?
JESSICA: And what are the rules about that? Can you give us an example of a time you’ve taken it?
DEAN: Well artistry is up to three tenths.
JESSICA: Up to three tenths?
DEAN: Mmmhmm. There’s three different categories for it and each one is worth up to one tenth. The originality and creativity of the choreography, the quality and the movement must express their personal style, and then the quality of expression. So that’s one of the few areas where it’s just really up to the judge’s opinion on what, if anything, they’re going to take.
JESSICA: So wow. Oh my Gosh. I mean this is why I should never be a judge because I would take the artistry deduction all over the place. Can you give us an example of when you’ve taken that? Like you don’t have to name names of course unless you can.
DEAN: Okay so it applies only on beam and floor of course because you don’t have a whole lot of choreography on bars and vault. Yeah I’ve taken it when sometimes you’ll see choreography that’s just really really bad. Like oh did your little sister who’s in ninth grade put this together for you where it’s just a whole lot of okay I’m going to do a skill here and dance over here and I’m going to stop over here and stand around for a minute. You know, I’ll take it with that. If you get athletes who just aren’t emoting, you know, they’re not performing. You know, you can look at that as part of the quality of expression.
JESSICA: So they have what we call that elite dead eyes.
JESSICA: There’s nothing on the face, nothing registers.
DEAN: Yeah exactly. And you’re not saying they have to smile and be cheery through it, but that’s part of the expression. If they’ve got a real upbeat hip hop type music, you expect to see some facial expression, body expression, movement going along with that.
JESSICA: This is so interesting. Okay now. Next one. Because I have a friend, you might have judged her at UW a long time ago. She’s from North Dakota and she said that she got a vulgarity deduction in her floor routine in North Dakota. Can you take a vulgarity deduction?
DEAN: Well there’s nothing written that says there’s a deduction for that. And this is what happens. A kid will fall off and they’ll say a nice choice word or two and it sort of leaves the judge in a quandary because there is no specific deduction for that type of thing. Now you could look at it as sportsmanship. But sportsmanship really comes into you get a warning and you really need to shape up your behavior. If they just fall off and curse like a sailor, you say hey you really can’t do that and they did it again, then there would be a sportsmanship deduction. But you know, I just sort of go with it because I don’t know what deduction would apply for that situation.
JESSICA: See I just feel like there’s such a double standard with vulgarity. Because in boys’ sports, they can cuss up a storm, not that it’s right, whatever. It’s not very sportsmanlike. But they’re encouraged to and when I see women do that and then they get attacked for it, I’m like really. Anyway. Those are my personal feelings about it.
DEAN: No I completely agree with you. There’s other situations like the swearing, like leotard picking, like jewelry and underwear showing. I like to focus on the sport itself and not worry about those things whenever I can. I don’t want to be that judge like the movie Stick It with the bra showing. I would much prefer to focus on what the athlete is doing as it relates to the sport itself rather than if her bra strap is showing or if she has piercings. Some of them are rules and we do have to enforce the rules.
JESSICA: So my other question related back to gym myth busters again. Can you take a vulgarity artistry deduction? If there’s something in the routine and I’ll give you an example. There was a gymnast at Fullerton who sat on the floor and she would clap her hands one two at the audience and the audience would start to clap one two and then she would smack her butt to the beat one two while the audience made the clapping sound. Just an example.
DEAN: Oh, well I could certainly see that falling into the up to three tenths for artistry. That one I definitely could see someone finding a way, especially like the quality of expression piece. Oh that wasn’t good quality sort of right there.
JESSICA: Oh she definitely had the facial expression, it definitely went with the booty slap. It was all together. You felt like you were in the club with the pole in the middle. So there was that. I’ve always wanted to ask a judge that question. So we just talked a little bit about the wedgies and the problems and all that. And I wondered. One of the other myths that’s out there is that if a whole team has a problem with their leos, so if it’s not just one person, you know they get a wedgie they pick it whatever. But if the whole team, somehow, something is wrong with the leos and every single person has a wedgie the whole time they’re competing, can a deduction be taken against the entire team or basically against the coach for putting them in those leos?
DEAN: Not really. I mean the leotards have to come down below their hips. If they’ve got tank leotards, the top has to be two inches thick or something like that. But other than that, no. There really aren’t. And it wouldn’t be a team deduction. It would be an individual deduction. So no there’s nothing really about that.
JESSICA: Okay, very good to know. Hmm another myth busted.
DEAN: Somewhere, I forget whether it’s USAG or NCAA, they sort of make a sort of broad statement saying you know, we’re gymnasts. We’re not pole dancers sort of thing so try and keep it professional.
JESSICA: I’m glad that exists somewhere.
DEAN: Yeah but aside from those measurements and the not going above the hips sort of thing, there’s nothing terribly specific about it.
JESSICA: Okay another myth. Let’s ask you this one. If a judge sees something they think is too dangerous to be performed, like in warm ups a kid is crashing almost on their head every time, the judge can make an executive decision and tell the gymnast or the coach, I’m overruling this. I don’t want to see them do that. They can’t do that vault. It’s too dangerous. True or false?
DEAN: That is a very good question. And you know, I have seen that exact situation. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it. This was at a club meet, not NCAA. At this particular meet, it was actually one club that had kids just whomping all over the place. I mean Tsuks to their face, double backs to their face. It was just nightmarish. Some of the judges said no I’m not going to judge this and others judged it.
DEAN: The sort of question went up to the USAG office and the ruling came down. And this was a long time ago. Things may have changed but I haven’t seen anything in writing that I can remember. It’s the judges’ responsibility to judge what they see. They don’t get to say you don’t get to compete. It’s the coaches’ responsibility to make sure the athlete can perform the skills they are performing.
JESSICA: So basically what should happen in this situation is parents should walk onto the floor, slap the coach and take their kid out of there. Okay. That’s just my personal opinion.
DEAN: Well you know the parents, a lot of them get caught in the whirlwind of it all themselves and just think it’s okay. From what Dr. Nasser was saying the other day, the parents also need to take some responsibility here. If they see their kid continually doing that they’re landing on their face, maybe they should have a talk with the coach and say she’s perhaps not ready for this. We need to try something else.
JESSICA: Yes! Amen to that! Next myth: all judges at NCAA championships are Brevet level judges. True or false?
DEAN: False. To judge an NCAA meet, any NCAA meet, you have to be a level 10 rated judge or higher. So that will include level 10 judges, national judges and then Brevet judges. And in the United States, there are two types of Brevet judges. There’s the FIG Brevets who are international judges and I forget the exact number but it’s somewhere around twenty that the United States has and what are called USA Brevet judges. And the national and USA Brevet judges take the same test and it’s all level 10 rules. So all of the types of judges, we just know level 10. We don’t look at FIG rules. It doesn’t affect our lives unless you work in a gym or something like that and you’re training athletes for that. The FIG Brevet judges, there might be a couple that judge college, not many at all.
JESSICA: Interesting! Well thank you for clarifying that because I know we talked about that in our NCAA episode last year so this is very good to know. So let’s discuss something I’ve always wanted to ask a judge. Okay so to put a little perspective because I know some of the younger people who listen to the show, they’re used to this. This is what they’ve grown up doing. Back in the day, when you had a gymnastics meet at a club, it would be like you and your club and four other clubs. That would be it. And you would all show up, you warm up and you rotate. You know, four apparatus, four teams, boom. Meet’s over. Tops, the meet is over in three hours, would be the very longest. And then you go home. You still had a Saturday. You’d all go out to pizza afterwards. It was great. You had a weekend, whatever. So now, I mean I don’t even go to local meets anymore because they’re like a factory farm. I don’t know how else to explain what the meets are like. Each gym has like two massive, gigantic, huge mega meets that would have been the equivalent of what would have been a state championship in the olden days with that many kids. There’s like 400 kids. It costs like $100 to compete in the meet or $200. And it’s like this farm system where there’s constantly all day long competition. And I can’t even imagine what that’s like for the judges to judge from 8 am until 9:00 at night, not to mention for the parents and the coaches. I personally just do not like this sytem at all. I feel like it’s driven by, for financial reasons and not for the health and safety and well-being of the athletes and their family. What is it like for you seeing this change happen over the years?
DEAN: Well I think you pretty much nailed the way the situation is now. I have no doubt, before I say what I’m going to say, is that the coaches of course have their athletes, have the best for their athletes in mind. But gosh those meets are long. When I see a three session meet with 70-odd kids in each session and know I’m going to be there from 8:00 to 9:00 each day, I just sort of quiver because it is long and it’s hard. You get tired. Me, I try not to take those meets anymore because I just don’t think I as a judge can do that good of a job at 7:00 at night anymore and give the athletes their due time with my eyes and my critique of their performance because it’s just so exhausting to be doing that for so long of a time during the day.
JESSICA: Yeah okay good. I hope, I don’t know. I hope that gym will find a way, I don’t know. I feel like it’s more of gym owners than coaches and maybe it has nothing to do with money. But I worked at a gym where they had one person whose entire job, that’s all she did, was host the meets because this was the biggest revenue stream. I was like what?
DEAN: Oh they make thousands of dollars with these meets.
JESSICA: Right, and I was like wait a minute. Everyone pays for classes right? Shouldn’t this be enough for revenue? It was a totally different system, the economic system was completely different than it used to be. Yeah I just think it’s kind of sad because I really liked the intimacy of the meets that used to happen.
DEAN: I totally agree with you. I think maybe that’s why I like high school. Personally, I like high school and college better because I know how long I’m going to be there. I know they are all going to sort of know each other and have a good time when they’re there. Now it’s like you warm up, compete one event. You warm up, you compete another event. You’ve got seventy kids wandering around, twenty coaches wandering around and nobody ever knows what’s going on. Was she competing or was she warming up? Because I’ve seen this as a parent too when my daughter was doing gymnastics. Even though I knew sort of how things worked, somebody knock on me when she’s competing because otherwise I’m just sitting here.
JESSICA: Right exactly.
DEAN: Yeah it’s not what I like but you know, I’m not the gym owner. I’m not having to pay the bills. I think a lot of it has to do with money though.
JESSICA: Is there something that you just want to stab your eyes out when you see it? Like layout layout on floor as a middle pass? Are you just like oh my God can we please change this rule? If I have to see this again I’m just going to fall over in my chair dead.
DEAN: Well you know, no. Because you see it all the time and you sort of get maybe immune to it. But I’ll tell you when you see a middle pass that’s something different from that, you kind of get excited. Wow, she did something harder than a front layout front layout woo!
JESSICA: Yes. Ugh every time I see a front layout front layout, I just want to throw my arms up in the air.
DEAN: It’s a very used connection.
JESSICA: Yes. Okay one of our listeners wrote in and she has a question for you: I want to know why front double fulls and Rudis have a bigger value in NCAA, yet why back tumbling is devalued. Please ask. Thoughts on this? Is that totally accurate what she’s asking there?
DEAN: Yeah pretty much. Front twisting skills are worth more than back twisting skills. I think it’s just the evolution of the sport. I mean they used to be, go back twelve years ago, they were worth even a lot more. Oh gosh, maybe even four years ago, five years ago and front layouts were C’s four years ago.Then they were put down to B’s in the last cycle. All the higher skills went down of course also. So I think it’s just been an evolution. Many years ago, we never saw, ever ever saw front tumbling. You might see a front handspring front tuck and that was like oh pretty cool. But you never saw front layouts. You know, if you saw a Rudi, it was like wow.
JESSICA: Right because….so I think a lot of people don’t even know about the fact that like basically front tumbling was sort of, it disappeared for a period of time in gymnastics. Then it came back. Can you talk about kind of why that happened and then why it changed? Was it like injuries or something?
DEAN: I have no explanation for it. You’re absolutely right. You never saw front tumbling twenty years ago. It just did not happen. And over the years, I think people….maybe it had something to do with the floor. The mechanism of the floor itself. It’s the only thing I can think of. It just wasn’t trained. It wasn’t done. Nobody did it. And when it started coming back, you know a lot of people can do it now. And they can do it really really well and get some decent bonus for doing it too.
JESSICA: Are there still some front skills that men are allowed to do that women aren’t? I remember for a while it was a one and a quarter. Like everybody at my gym did that a long long time ago. And all of a sudden, nobody ever did it again. Like everyone was breaking their elbows or something. They were just smacking them on the ground instead of actually catching them in push up position. Are those still allowed or are those out?
DEAN: Those are allowed but as far as NCAA goes, they do have a rule that says you can only do I think, oh gosh I’m going off the top here, that you can only do one
JESSICA: landing on your stomach, right?
DEAN: Yeah and when they were the big deal to do. They were worth more than the skill itself if they were to land on their feet. So like if they were going to do maybe an Arabian which is a B, if they did an Arabian to their face it was a C.
JESSICA: (laughs) to their face. That’s how they were doing them though. That’s why they banned them for a while, exactly.
DEAN: Yeah so they changed that and made them the same value as the root skill, it’s called. So they’re no longer worth more. So really do you want to risk your face?
JESSICA: Yeah no, no I do not. I have done those many many times. Basically just shoot your feet behind you on purpose. Just shoot your feet behind you as fast as you can and then hope that you can catch yourself before your face smashes on the ground. That is how I performed that skill. Yes. It was not good. It was not good.
DEAN: It would often hurt my back because you would see the kid land and they sort of had this fish floppy thing going on, oh that’s going to hurt her back.
JESSICA: Yes exactly. Because you’re still sliding forward while arching. Nope, that’s no good. Or taking a toenail off when you shoot your feet back, that is another horrific thing that happens when you do that skill. Oh my God I have to curl my toes under right now because I’m reminding myself how much it hurts. Okay so one of the things that of course the gym nerds are always wanting to know about in NCAA is oh this judge is affiliated with that school so they’re totally biased. Or they shouldn’t be allowed to judge this because they’re always taking this deduction and no one else is blah blah blah. So tell us how affiliation works. Like if you’ve gone to a school and then you graduate and were an NCAA gymnast and then how judges are reviewed.
DEAN: Okay so the review process is the coaches fill out a review or an evaluation sort of thing after the regular season meets and that goes to I think it’s their coaches association committee. It could be the NCAA committee. I’m not entirely sure where it goes. After that, I don’t exactly know what happens to it. I know the feedback does not come back to the judges so they never know what sort of evaluation they’ve been given. My guess is if a coach has an axe to grind that they definitely respond but maybe not so much if they’re just like okay. That’s just my guess just knowing sort of how surveys work. If you’re upset about something, you reply to it. Otherwise you’re just like well yeah whatever. And you know, I would hope all the coaches respond to all their judges for every meet, good or bad. I think the NCAA committee uses that to select judges for regionals and nationals. However I do not know and I don’t know how they select those judges. I do know that affiliation and NCAA does have rules about that. You can’t donate to a booster club. You can’t work for the school. You can’t be a direct relative of a coach or an athlete to judge regionals and nationals. For regular season meets though, I think it’s just up to the assigners to look and see if a judge has said that they are affiliated to a school and not assign them to a meet where that school is at.
JESSICA: And if you were an NCAA athlete and then you become a judge, can you start judging right away? Or you can’t judge your alma mater for two years or ten years or something?
DEAN: There’s no rule about that that I know of.
JESSICA: Oh interesting. Okay.
DEAN: Yeah we even have coaches, or former coaches that judge also that are right back at it within a year judging the school that they may have coached at if they are assigned such.
JESSICA: So basically the judges don’t self-regulate. Their regulation is off. Someone else regulates the judges, if someone complains that they’re biased or they’re you know whatever. They’re not a self-regulating entity.
DEAN: No because it’s up to the assigners to assign them to the meets. But there’s no sort of feedback system that comes back to the assigners or to the judges to know, you know maybe they are a good judge, maybe they’re a bad judge. But really who’s call is that to make?
JESSICA: So if you’re the head judge though. Okay let me make it more specific. So if you’re the head judge and there’s two or four of you, whatever. And one person is consistently like five tenths off of everyone else and this happens over and over throughout the meet, what would happen then? Is there some system of saying you know, this person is definitely wrong or the other judges were totally wrong? How is someone who’s not doing well removed, fixed, identified kind of stuff?
DEAN: To my knowledge, nothing happens. You know, as long as they were consistent, nothing would ever happen. They might get bad evaluations like if it’s a regular season meet or perhaps not asked back if it’s a regional or national meet but really that’s about it. But again, if they’re consistent, you know, there are judges out there who are just really really low. If they’re consistent, I think everybody’s fine with it as long as they remain consistent throughout every team that they judge.
JESSICA: Got it. So it would only be if there was a situation that was when it was Yale that they were judging and every time, they only give 8s but everyone else, they’re giving higher scores then that would come up in their review from the judges, from the coaches.
DEAN: I would certainly hope it would. I mean if there’s clear bias, I would hope that somebody evaluates them and somehow elevates that to somebody who might talk to that judge but I don’t know how that would happen.
JESSICA: Interesting. Okay. There are NCAA gymnastics fans who claim that Olympians receive an extra tenth of bonus. Do you think the Olympian bonus is true and are there measures in place to prevent judging bias like that?
DEAN: Do I think it’s true? No. Are there things to prevent that? No. You know, I’ve seen over the past many years of judging, several Olympians and world competitors from a variety of countries and it’s just been my perception of when you see them, they just have a little bit of extra polish quite often than the other athletes do. So I wouldn’t say they’re getting anything special but they’re just a little bit better.
JESSICA: Yeah you can definitely see the difference I think.
DEAN: I totally agree with that. Really when you’re sitting right up there at the event judging, if you can see an athlete and they stretch up their arms and you can see the rays of light shooting out the end of their fingers because they’re so extended and performing so well, it’s like wow that is really awesome. I’m seeing the complete amplitude and extension of that skill, even if she’s just standing there.
JESSICA: That is such an interesting way to see it. I never think of how it looks right from your seat and literally looking up at the arena lights through where they are competing. I always think of rays of light because they are fantastic and sparkles shoot out of them. I love that visual. That gives me a whole new appreciation for how you can differentiate from where you’re sitting. DEAN: Yeah I mean it’s very different when you’re sitting four feet away from the athlete than sitting up in the stands.
DEAN: Let me say it’s not just an Olympian. Any athlete can have that sort of presentation. But for them, it’s quite often you can really see it.
JESSICA: Yeah. And you’re an assigner. How does assigning work?
DEAN: So each assigner has a certain amount of schools that they assign for. The schools tell you how many judges they want. Half of the judges at the meet are considered local judges. And for most schools, local is defined as within 250 miles of the school. And the other half have to come from outside that 250 miles. And you as an assigner are also obligated to assign judges, as we call them away judges from all across the country. Like so for my schools, I couldn’t just assign, you know all my away judges come from California. I have to take from all of the other areas to judge all my meets. That’s it in a nutshell really.
DEAN: Well I guess I could go a little bit further. You can’t have two judges from the same state together. You have to separate them. You don’t want your highest weighted judges to be head judges. There’s lots of little intricacies to make sure there is absolutely no way of having any bias on your panels.
JESSICA: And by highest rating, do you mean the most experience?
DEAN: No the judge’s rating. If you’ve got a Brevet judge, they’re assigned head judge and the national judges would be the next head judge if there’s no Brevet judge on the meet, that type of thing.
JESSICA: Okay, okay, got it. So we’re almost done with the whole bias thing. You know, this had to be half of the conversation. So the other thing that I think I’ve heard gymnastics fans complain about and also NCAA athletes who are on lower, just not the top most sparkly Division I teams, but the teams that are good but they haven’t won a national championship, the leotard bonus. The teams, they could be doing the exact same skill, even better than someone that’s at Alabama but they’re not getting the same score because they’re not wearing the Alabama leotard. What would you say to the athletes that feel like that’s happening to them?
DEAN: Well that’s a hard one. You hear that all the time. I think I will go to my grave being very very adamant that that does not occur but I think it may from time to time. I really don’t believe…if it does happen, it’s not on purpose. No judge would ever, ever, ever do that on purpose. I think some of the difference is, or some of the reason behind that though may just be, like we were talking a second ago the judge sitting a couple feet away from that gymnast and seeing the difference and the experience of that particular judge. They might have seen the day before, say two teams that were in the Super Six at the NCAAs from the year before. And then the very next day, they’re seeing two teams that have never even qualified for regionals. Not to say that those teams couldn’t have athletes that are just as good, but they’re probably not in the same league and it’s just hard sometimes for people to accept that. You know, she really wasn’t as good as these other kids. Those other kids from the meet the day before, they went a foot higher on all their vaults. They kept their legs completely straight rather than a slight bend. I think you will always hear that sort of comment from people and there’s to my knowledge, no way to really say it’s true or false. I think it’s just a perception.
JESSICA: I’m totally thinking about our current floor national champion right now and I’m thinking about this. I don’t think about Michigan as a huge gymnastics school but they have a national champion on that team. So anyway, that’s just what came to mind. I was just thinking about her. Oh and I’m thinking about of course, Jenny Hansen who is debatably tied with Courtney Kupets for greatest NCAA athlete of all time and she was from Kentucky, which it’s Kentucky.
DEAN: Didn’t she qualify to nationals by herself every year?
JESSICA: By herself, qualified and won three times in a row.
DEAN: Yeah she was an amazing athlete.
JESSICA: She’s still an amazing athlete which is even crazier. She went there for the 25 year anniversary of her win or something like that and she’s in the middle of the basketball court at Kentucky and just takes her heels off and does a standing back tuck, you know on the floor, waves to everyone, puts her heels on and walks off. Aren’t you like 40?
DEAN: That is awesome!
JESSICA: Yes, oh I love her! So I have been advocating this for elite, which I feel like elite has had many many many much much deeper crazy cheating scandals than NCAA. And it’s been proven time and time again, bribery and all. They’ve had a lot of problems in elite. So I have been advocating for judges to judge on an iPad so that what they’re judging can be seen live. Because they have a whole system where they, afterwards they’re kind of ranked and reviewed and if you’re off the other judges so much, you know whatever. So I’ve been saying that they should judge live on an iPad and then the athletes and the audience should be able to get this if they want to, should get receipts. You can basically see what was taken on your routine after the meet is over. I think that would encourage more transparency and it would end all the speculation. Every time someone’s like what how did she get that? Oh my God, I’m outraged! It’s cheating blah blah blah. Well if you could just see what the deductions were, then there wouldn’t be any more questions. Like this would put an end to all of that. What do you think of this idea?
DEAN: It wouldn’t bother me. I think it’s sort of like an inquiry I guess. And inquiries are regulated in that the judges don’t only have to disclose their total execution deductions, not what specifically each execution deduction was on. And you know I think it’s part of the way NCAA looks at coaching you know. Because they have rules, and I don’t know exactly how the rules work, but something to the effective of they can only have so many coaches and if you have more people a judge can’t do an intrasquad with the school after a certain point of time because then they’re considered a coach because they’re getting coaching feedback. So there might be something about that as far as NCAA goes to know exactly where the judges are taking their deductions. But the coaches do have a it’s called a routine summary form that they can fill out. We are allowed to give them much more information but it’s all written down. And they do get to know exactly where everything was happening and get some feedback from the judges that way. It’s just not on the web or anywhere people can see it and it’s only from what the coaches ask for.
JESSICA: Gotcha. So really this would just benefit the fans. And who is more important to benefit? Yes, that’s right.
DEAN: Hey they’re the people paying to get in right?
JESSICA: Exactly. We’re the ones supporting all this so yes. I think it would be fantastic. I just want to check on your time really quick because I know it’s almost 1:00. Do you have like five more minutes?
JESSICA: Ok awesome. Ok. What are the rules about contact between an athlete and coach- not athlete and coach obviously. What are the rules about contact between the judges and coaches or an athlete during the meet? I know Utah’s notorious for getting red carded or yellow carded or whatever for having too much contact or intimidating the judges. What exactly can be done and what can’t be done?
DEAN: Really all the only contact that is supposed to happen is a friendly quick greeting, hello how are you, and that’s pretty much it. They are allowed to talk to the meet referee though if they feel something’s awry.
JESSICA: Got it ok this is good to know. See I don’t think a lot of people know there is a meet referee in NCAA.
DEAN: Yep every NCAA competition has a meet referee and the coaches can talk to the meet referee. Some places do have a separate non judging meet referee and some have just one of the judges on the floor that is also the meet referee.
JESSICA: Interesting. Ok. A lot of the on average the scores of the top 36 teams has steadily been going higher and higher and higher in the last couple years. Why do you think that’s happening?
DEAN: There’s a lot of great athletes and a lot of great coaches in the United States.
JESSICA: Yeah we’re kind of the number one team in the world right now.
DEAN: Yeah kind of
JESSICA: Yep. One final thing I know you’re very passionate about and I think a lot of people don’t even know about this and they would love if they actually experienced it is the national high school gymnastics championships. Can you tell everybody what that is?
DEAN: Yeah. We have it’s called the National High School Gymnastics Association. And it’s open to any state that has high school gymnastics. Anybody can join. Coaches, interested parties, whatever, can join. And we have every May, and it’s almost always in Florida because most of the places in the country that have high school gymnastics are northern-ish states and everybody wants to get to the sun. So the meet ends up being in Florida almost all the time. There is it’s called a senior showcase invitational. And it’s open to any state that has high school seniors that competed for their high school to come to this invitational and show off their skills you know. A lot of them aren’t going on to college so this is their last big hurrah. And they have a phenomenal time down there at this meet. Great atmosphere for these athletes for most of them it’s their last competition.
JESSICA: I love that. Yeah I didn’t know anything about this. This is awesome.
DEAN: Yeah we would love to have every state in the country that has high school gymnastics participate in this. I think part of the reason that we don’t currently is there’s no single set of rules that apply across the country for high school gymnastics. The national high school federation has a set of rules but not every state uses them. The other states that don’t use the federation rules, they either write their own, they use some sort of made up rules, maybe based on USAG rules, maybe not. So I think a lot of people are intimidated by the rules. But I’m the technical director for that organization, and part of my job is to help the coaches understand what rules we’re using and how to best prepare their athletes to use those rules.
JESSICA: And I can tell you guys from personal experience that Dean is very helpful when you look at the rules and are like what am I supposed to do [LAUGHS]. I do not understand this. So contact him, he’s really really helpful. And he won’t laugh at you [LAUGHS] when you ask- years later you can laugh about it together. So.
DEAN: Yes funny thing about questions that I do laugh about. I got a [inaudible] evaluation probably about 20 years ago. Somebody asked me first for to give a value to a skill on balance beam of a dive backward roll.
DEAN: Just take a moment and try to picture what that looks like because even over 20 years I can’t imagine what that skill is.
JESSICA: [LAUGHS] What? Yeah that sounds terrifying.
DEAN: [LAUGHS] Yes it does
JESSICA: Completely dangerous. Oh one other thing I want to say about high school gymnastics is so awesome is that these kids like the kids on our team that had been doing gymnastics their entire lives and were great. Like we had some level 10 national champions on our team. And no one, their school, nobody knew they were a gymnast. Nobody ever recognized them. And you know you go to those rallies in high school and they run the football team and they run the boys out and the cheerleaders run around in their little skirts and everything. And you know they could lose every single day, they never work out as much as gymnasts work out, and do the gymnasts ever get recognized? No. They never get recognized. This was a way for our fantastic athletes who were at the school who no one knew anything about to be recognized and celebrated by their school. And be able to also contribute to gymnastics by helping the beginners on the team. It was so awesome to see these gymnasts be able to be recognized and acknowledged by their entire community for something they’ve been doing their whole lives and no one at school ever really knew about.
DEAN: Oh you’re absolutely right. I mean I think that’s another exciting thing about high school gymnastics is you’re right these kids could be JO level 10 national champion, no one in the community have a clue. But if they win a high school meet, I don’t care if they were a level 4, but they win their high school meet, they get a write up in the paper, the scores for the meet are in the paper, everybody at their school knows them, it’s totally cool.
JESSICA: Yeah. It’s awesome. High school gymnastics is just the best thing ever. Ok.
DEAN: Yeah and it’s a great way to keep the kids in a sport. They don’t have to be doing double backs and amanar vaults. They can do their little handsprings and they can do their round off back handsprings on floor and they’re still cool because you know what? 99% of the other kids in that school couldn’t even hope to do something like that.
JESSICA: Exactly. Exactly exactly. Such a good point. Such such such a good point. And it’s fun, it’s really fun. And you don’t have to work out a bazillion hours a week you know. So I love it.
JESSICA: Yes, fun
DEAN: I mean an hour and a half maybe two hours depending on the program. But yeah.
JESSICA: Exactly, plenty of time. So that is all the formal questions that I have for you. Is there anything else that you want to talk about? Anything you want people to know? Any-
DEAN: Other than that, you know just support your high school, support your club, support your college meets, come to them all. Don’t boo the judges.
DEAN: Because remember, one of the important things for most people who may not know, the judges don’t write the rules. We just enforce them. So we’re not the legislature, we’re the police.
JESSICA: Yeah that is true, this is true.
DEAN: A lot of times we don’t like the deductions we have to take, but they’re there and we have to take them.
DEAN: So don’t blame us. If Suzie bends her legs, I’m going to take a deduction for it. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it works.
UNCLE TIM: According to Jessica O’Beirne, Fred Turoff is one of the titans of men’s gymnastics. A Philadelphia native, Fred competed for the Philadelphia Turners before becoming a member of Temple University’s men’s gymnastics team. Fred represented the United States at the 1969 Maccabiah games, the the 1970 World University Games, and the 1970 World Championships. But after a string of knee and shoulder injuries, Fred hung up his singlet and became the head coach of Temple University’s men’s gymnastics team in 1976. It’s a position that he still holds today. However, recently, Temple’s administration announced that the men’s gymnastics program would be cut after the 2014 competitive season. Earlier this week we spoke to Fred about the university’s decision. I mean during your time, I’m curious, was this the first time that the gymnastics program was on the chopping block? Or has Temple’s men’s gymnastics program been in this situation before?
FRED: Well in 1994 we had a new athletic director. And his first big action was to recommend dropping baseball and men’s and women’s gymnastics. And he did this 11 days before the board of trustees meeting. And before the athletic council meeting. So we had a chance to speak to their council which unfortunately passed his recommendation. But in the mean time we were able to muster enough public support that the board of trustees was flooded with letters and calls, and they allowed us to make a presentation at the board of trustees meeting. And at that meeting I had the chance to speak and try to show that the reasoning that the athletic director used was faulty. And that it was a better idea to keep us. And another coach, women’s coach, and representation of baseball spoke, and in the end the board voted to not accept the athletic director’s recommendation. So that was a great success back then 19 years ago. And the interesting thing is that the particular team I had that year had three individuals on it who later within the next several years became NCAA individual champions. And we had a number of all american scholar athletes on that team as well. We’ve always had that fortunately I’ve been fortunate that good students as as as athletes. And so this time around I guess the current new athletic director and new president learned a lesson and there was an emergency board of trustees meeting Friday morning. So we didn’t know that was going on. We had just received when I say we, a number of coaches had received a notice that there was a meeting of the teams that particular spot at 1:45 the next day, make sure that everybody was there and that we were going to have some individual meetings with our athletic director the day before the meeting. So I had called my particular time slot was 1:05 that day. So I went in, sat down, and there were two and then later three administrators in there. And they told us they were going to drop seven sports and we were one of them. And I asked if there was any recourse, fundraising would help, and was told no. And the only kind of wise thing I said to them was well your APR is going to suffer when we’re gone. APR is the academic progress rate, and we’ve been contributing greatly to that in the department over the past umpteen years. So then from that meeting I walked over to the meeting of the athletes. And the athletic director came in and just a few minutes told all the teams there that it was discontinuing all those programs, the seven sports represented, as of June 30 so that he could free up facilities and free up money to better the other sports that will remain. So we really didn’t have any chance to make any presentation or rebuttal to the board of trustees or the athletic council. So I assume that this had been going on for many months and in the planning stages and they wanted to make sure there was no chance for us to make a case to counter their case. So that’s the story. So right now what we’re trying to do is muster enough opinion from the public and [inaudible] that says Temple University to let the president and the board and the athletic director know that men’s gymnastics is a gem to keep in their department rather than get rid of. And that considering the things we’ve done in the past, for instance in the 37 previous years, we’ve won our conference title 18 times. And I don’t believe there’s any other team at Temple that’s been that successful in the conference. We also had the top grade point average of all the teams at Temple for the past three years. There’s an award that’s given out for the top grade point average and not only the past three years but four out of the five last five years. So we’ve done very well academically. We graduate everybody that has come in and they’ve counted in the APR which is a measure of graduation rates. So there are all these positives and yet the announcement was made to the teams and the coaches and especially for the teams because they’re the students and this is finals week. They were told this Friday right before study weekend and doing study days. And I’m sure it affected their study weekend of many of the kids getting prepared for finals. But having no forward notice of this and no possibility of a sort of remedial action [inaudible] well yes if you come up with 10 million dollars, that would’ve given a goal to go for. But we didn’t have that. Actually totally endow my program to cover all the costs of today’s rates of return on investment would be a 4.6 million dollar endowment. And then that way salaries are covered, team expenses are covered, scholarships are covered. So I only have four scholarships, whereas the NCAA limit for men’s gymnastics is 6.3. So I have not been able to offer full scholarship to anybody. And as a result I break my scholarships up quite a bit and parse them out to various guys on the team when they earn them or deserve them. Another thing is that means with 19 currently on my team and only four scholarships total, 15 are paying to come to school so we’re bringing in money. More money than it costs to have us. But these factors weren’t considered. So yeah it’s disappointing that the value of having my team didn’t weigh enough in the decision to drop us. [Inaudible] speak of us. Other coaches have things to say about their teams. But certainly we’ve done everything that the university would want an athletic team to do. We’ve represented them well competitively, academically, and we have community service, and we [inaudible] a clinic for local kids on Sundays during fall and spring semesters since 1982. We have a boys team, the only boys competitive team in Philadelphia. And that’s been running for 11 years. Plus we do exhibitions. We’ve taken part in the Special Olympics. That sort of stuff. So I think we’ve fulfilled the direction given by our mission statement to compete well, to do well in the classroom, and to do well in our community. And the sad thing to me is I don’t think these things were taken into account.
UNCLE TIM: Wow. I mean your team sounds incredible and not only academically but also what you’re doing in the community. And I’m getting a little choked up talking to you about this because it’s something that we’re all kind of passionate about on this show. What can gymnastics fans do to help you speak to the university or what have you? What can we do to help?
FRED: Well certainly if you are familiar with Temple Gymnastics or have been affected by it in any way, a letter to the president, a letter to the chair of the board of trustees, a letter to the athletic director can be effective. Other than someone who is very rich out there saying look I’ve got millions of dollars, I’m willing to pay for your program and by the way I have to pay for a women’s program as well because we have Title IX to consider, I don’t think that’s going to happen because it hasn’t happened in my 38 years so far. Even though I’ve been seeking large donations, nothing’s ever come of that. And so I can tell you my email is email@example.com. If anybody writes to me and says what can I do, I’ve got a sheet of facts about the university I can send you and addresses of the people that might be affected by notification, I will send it back out to you and thank you very much for your concern.
UNCLE TIM: What do you think are some of the implications for the gymnastics community as a whole? The NCAA for instance might think about not having a national championship. I know in the past, they questioned whether men’s gymnastics should because they’re so few teams competing. What do you think might happen?
FRED: That got fixed up a while ago. Olympic sports got a special status and they’re not going to take away a national championship unless it’s specifically acted upon by the whole membership. So I think the NCAA will continue to sponsor the national championship even though we are small. We only have 17 varsity programs right now and if we go there’s 16. My bigger concern is several fold. One is that the collegiate programs are a good portion of the training grounds for a national team. They also a goal for all the boys in the junior program and the high school programs to aim for because many of those kids want to continue on in college. There are a whole bunch of club programs, non varsity programs, in the country. But of course people would like to aspire, many of them like to aspire to compete at the higher level, which is the NCAA level. Another thing, let’s see. Another thing to keep in mind is we have six schools in our conference. If we are not there anymore, we’re in essence a founding member, [inaudible], what affect will it be on the other schools in our conference? And I’m worried about that.
UNCLE TIM: Well I’m going to pass you over to Jessica who has a few last questions for you.
FRED: Sure no problem
JESSICA: HI! So we do a little our listeners are all gymnastics fans. And so we like to play a little game on the show called gymnastics myth busters. And we don’t- so we want to play this with you because we don’t often have a chance to talk to a as I said before a titan of men’s gymnastics like you who has accomplished so much and been around and seen it all. So the first question for you is is it true that you have a gymnast on your team who’s six feet tall?
JESSICA: You do!
FRED: He’s not the tallest gymnast I’ve ever seen. There was a fellow on the Southern Connecticut team who was 6’2. And he was our conference champion back in the 80s. And interestingly in 1980 I did a clinic in South Africa and worked with a bunch of kids. And at the 91 World Championships there was a 6’4 gymnast from South Africa. And of course they had to raise the rings and horizontal bars for him every time he performed. And he came over and says you don’t remember me but you taught me in 1980 at that clinic in South Africa. I was a little different then [LAUGHS]. Said I’m sure you were because I don’t remember anybody being that tall. But of course that gave him 11 years to grow. But yes I’ve had some tall gymnasts. And in fact the tallest was a coach ahead of me, Dave Thor, was a six foot gymnast and he was our top man on the 68 Olympic team.
JESSICA: I love this. And I love that you have all these other stories about other gymnasts because there’s this whole ridiculous myth that you have to be small. And of course it helps for physics but it does not actually mean you can’t be a great gymnast, which you just gave examples of. And what’s your guy’s name who’s the six foot tall guy on this team?
FRED: Mike Bittner is my tallest guy I believe. And he’s a junior.
FRED: He was a former Parkette
JESSICA: Love it
FRED: He has an interesting story too because he had a little falling out in gymnastics. He got unhappy with gymnastics and he was also a football kicker. And he was supposed to go to college for a football scholarship. And he found- yeah he was supposed to go to a different college, small college, but on a scholarship. And he found out just before heading up to that college that the scholarship had been given to somebody else. So he decided to go back to gymnastics which was his first love. And in fact as a freshman I believe if I remember correctly he was voted most consistent gymnast on my team because I think if he did miss pommel horse that year he might’ve missed it once. But I don’t remember if he did miss.
JESSICA: That in itself deserves an award, because that’s amazing.
JESSICA: Wow. Love that. Ok. And now the next question I have for you is we have been trying to find- well let me tell you this. No one believes this story. Everyone thinks I’m making this up. But I swear I collect gymnastics books, I have a whole collection, and so I have been reading my gymnastics books and collecting them since I was a kid. And I swear I have not been able to find it but in one of gymnastics books there is the story of a guy I want to say it was the 60s or the 70s who streaked at an international-
JESSICA: You know the story?
FRED: Streaked. The 74 NCAAs. Yeah I know who he was.
FRED: And I was there and I watched it. Unfortunately I had my camera in my lap because I thought he was coming out a few minutes later. But yeah so the 1974 NCAAs it was held at Penn State. Just before the meet started a young man walked out with a stocking on his head, in the corner, raised his hand, did a round off flip flop back somersault and ran off the floor with policemen chasing him.
JESSICA: See no one believed me, I wasn’t making it up!
FRED: Yep and he ran behind the stands out to the parking lot where another friend of mine happened to be waiting with a van. And the guy ran into the van, he shut the van, and as the police came up to my friend with the van he said I just saw a naked guy run out into the parking lot. And of course the policemen were all there. And when the streaker came into the gym to sit down in the stands with his clothes on, of course we all stood up and applauded him.
JESSICA: This is the best thing ever.
FRED: And I actually have a video tape of this because [inaudible]. Not a videotape but a dvd. At that time it was film, film of him doing this. Very interesting. Yeah it happened, it actually happened.
JESSICA: This is the best gym myth busters ever in the history of the show oh my god. No one believed me oh my god I love this. That you guys had this planned out so well. He had a plan to escape. This is the best.
FRED: Oh yeah it was well thought. He did this on a bet by the way. The story is a couple people I know said I’ll give you $50 if you do this and he said alright. Two people did that so he got $100 for doing it.
JESSICA: And that was-
FRED: You’ve got to remember in the 70s streaking was a thing. People would streak all the time.
JESSICA: Oh yeah it was no-
FRED: It was the thing to do.
JESSICA: Oh my god. That is just fantastic. Oh my god I love it. Next time you see him, shake his hand. I need to buy a beers on me. I’m going to somehow, this is just the best thing ever. I love it. I love it. So recently we asked our listeners if they had ever had a leotard or singlet for the guys related injury. We had the story of someone I think it was an Oregon State gymnast who had a sparkle on her face then she fell on the beam and slid on her face so she ended up with a giant scratch from those face sticker sparkles they had. So we were like maybe this has happened, see they’re dangerous. These sparkles, that’s why we’re against them. So we wanted to know if anyone had had a leotard related injury. And we got a really funny story. So I wanted to know since you wore suspenders in your competitive days, if you ever had a suspender related injury or they ever snagged on anything or you know what were the hidden dangers?
FRED: I’ll give you a good story.
JESSICA: Ooh tell us
FRED: I have a good story of this. When Marshall Latimer was a freshman at Penn State at the time we wore suspenders, we was on floor exercise. And the pants that we had, and we wore shoes and pants on floor. And somehow during his floor exercise, his shoes came off his feet but they were held in place by the straps that we had around the feet. And so he’s performing with flapping shoes on his feet right? Then the next event is pommel horse. And in the middle of his routine, one of his suspenders slipped down onto his arm. Then as he’s still in the routine he’s trying really hard to get his arm out of his suspender. And he’s good enough on pommel horse to stay on, but you can imagine the gestures he was making during the routine. So he lands and he walks by our bench our assistant coach says to him Marshall you better make sure your pants are on tight on the next event. And you know what’s coming. But that was the biggest problem with uniforms that I saw. Other than in high school one of my friends wore loose shorts and as he did a vault over horizontal bar he caught his shorts in his hands. And of course they ripped off his body. And at that time we wore a jock strap underneath our shorts. We didn’t have- so he was hanging on the bar with his shorts in his hands in his jock and he was so embarrased he ran into the locker room and wouldn’t come out.
FRED: So there’s a couple good stories for you.
JESSICA: Oh my god [LAUGHS]
FRED: We always caution people that you don’t wear loose shorts. And I’ve seen in clinics I’ve seen kids get caught in their shorts when they’re doing some hip circles on the bar and they get stuck because their shorts had wrapped around the bar and we had to unwrap them.
JESSICA: Oh my god. Oh I can’t even imagine the embarrassment. Oh my god. And of course I would be the one that would bring it up constantly. Like are you sure your shorts are tight enough? Are you wearing your underwear this time? Because we don’t want to see your jock strap.
FRED: It gives us lots of fodder for fun.
JESSICA: [LAUGHS] Oh my god this is fantastic. Well. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.
FRED: Just remind anybody who is interested in helping us out and writing to any of the administrators send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And I will immediately send you the fact sheet I put together. And you can compose whatever you want.
FRED: I want the university to know that the public out there is concerned about Temple men’s gymnastics.
JESSICA: We will absolutely do that. And I just want to tell you on a personal note as a person I’m from Pennsylvania and my dad’s whole side of the family is from Philadelphia. And my niece now lives in Philadelphia. And I know from personal experience how very difficult it is to find a gymnastics school in the city itself, city proper. So I just want to thank you so much for having this program, having a club that’s gone on for all these years because it really is difficult in the actual city to find a gymnastics program. And I hope that will continue for many years to come.
FRED: I certainly do too
JESSICA: And the beers are on us next time we meet somewhere.
JESSICA: So we’re going to talk to Jill Hicks about early recruiting today. Jill Hicks is a former elite gymnast. She’s a long time very successful NCAA coach for Oregon and for Fullerton. She now runs Jill Hicks Consulting. It’s a service that helps gymnasts get one of those coveted NCAA scholarships. So thank you for joining us. And let’s talk about what you found out about early recruiting. We’ve discussed this a little bit on the show. We think it’s crazy and ridiculous and I think we’re universally against having 13 year olds decide which gym they’re going to go to.
JESSICA: So what did you find out?
JILL: Well, it’s not real comforting. And definitely the conclusion from every single one of them, from the strong programs to not as strong do not like early recruiting. And of course some of the coaches have been in gymnastics, college gymnastics for a long time, are very discouraged because they don’t think it’s going to change. Once the genie was out of the bottle, they feel like it’s not going to go back in. So that’s kind of overall consensus that I got from all the coaches. Even some very angry frustrated coaches feeling like their hands are tied they have to do it because everyone’s doing it and they don’t agree with it and don’t like it. So that was the overall conclusion.
JESSICA: And so just to give our listeners a little perspective we talked about this on the show with an example, big example was Lexie Priessman who was a huge recruit. Everyone wanted her. Amazing elite. And then she ended up committing early to Georgia I think when she was 14. I think she was a freshman. And then you know and now she has decided to go elsewhere and she’s going to LSU. And this leaves Georgia in a predicament where they right now have an empty, last time I checked they had an empty recruiting spot. And so you know this is kind of the situation but it’s like and we also talked about how there’s no NCAA rule about this because it was just a verbal commitment. Verbal commitments, they do not regulate. But they could. They could make a rule that said you can’t commit verbally or otherwise before this a certain age or whatever. So what else did you find out?
JILL: Well, so basically there’s an association or group of coaches that do proposals every year to the NCAA from each sport. And that’s really the only way that something gets changed. And you basically come up with a proposal then all the coaches have to vote on them. And then they send it to the NCAA and hope that they’ll take a good look at it. There’s always pros and cons to that and change is always very slow. And so that’s why I think a lot of the college coaches in gymnastics feel like nothing’s going to change because of that process, number one. And then number two, gymnastics isn’t one of their high priorities so a lot of these rules are based on several sports, not just gymnastics. And they really don’t have the money or the time to monitor. So if they make changes and make them really strict, we’ll have to be able to follow through with monitoring those rules. And they don’t want to have to do that, NCAA. That’s the whole problem. I was doing some research last night in all different sports like lacrosse and football and basketball and they actually make rules more lenient it looks like the NCAA’s decided. So they won’t have any- yeah they won’t care how many phone calls you make, they’re not going to care how many times you go visit. They’re looking at maybe even making opening all that up. So what I thought about the most is ok so what can the recruits do to deal with this issue. What can they do to be proactive to still get recruited, to still in the end end up at the school that’s a really good fit for them. That’s sort of what I feel like I have such a voice in now with my company, in helping kids hopefully think through things that- the biggest problem is fear and pressure. So everyone makes decisions fast.
JESSICA: Yeah I’ve heard crazy stories from recruits where they’ve been put in a room with two other recruits and they’ve said ok we only have three spots, you have to commit right now or we cannot offer you a scholarship. Which isn’t true. And they just tell them that so they’ll commit right away.
JILL: Yeah the biggest problem is lack of knowledge because how can parents keep up with all this. They just can’t. And so that’s where I think my voice has been the loudest in helping parents just to relax and know that ok here’s how it works, here’s what our plan is, here’s how you can do that. And you don’t have to worry about these five things, you just need to focus on these two things. Then they relax. And hopefully like I said come to the end of finding the right fit instead of the fast fit or the fearful fit.
JESSICA: So how can recruits and parents, how do they, how can they stop this. I mean besides saying I’m not ready to recruit, commit until I actually sign on the dotted line. What can they do?
JILL: My company is mainly geared toward more the natural level 9 turning level 10 into high school, maybe going to Nationals their sophomore year then doing well their junior year, which is kind of actually I think the right maturity timing for a lot of the JO kids. And those are mostly my clients. And so they’re not feeling as much pressure as a freshman because they’re just becoming level 10s. So that’s one game that they have to figure out. They have to just stay calm and I keep telling them you know don’t be disappointed and don’t quit the sport because you think you’re too far behind. Because actually there will be scholarships available. And it’s just going to look a little later.
JESSICA: And can you like this problem where they said they only have this scholarship and if you don’t commit right now we’re going to give it to so and so. Is there any way for them to say well can you actually write down for me your spots over the next three or four years so I can see what you’re talking about that you really don’t have this spot? Like is there something evidence based something know what I mean? Because it’s hard to think about when you don’t know how this whole thing works that you have to plan two or three years ahead for what openings you’re going to have.
JILL: Yeah totally. I think parents don’t realize that’s the thing I find is parents are paralyzed in the moment because they just don’t know is it appropriate to even ask this, is it appropriate to ask that. I give all my clients a whole list of questions to ask when they walk into the coach’s room. I always love that as a coach. It showed me one that they really thought through things, and two they’re making it personal to them what kind of questions do they have. They care. And they’re leaders. So I always liked being questioned. I thought that was always a good thing. Some of the colleges that I sent out that email to and they responded even said I will never recruit a freshman in high school. They’re just adamantly against it. And they don’t think it’s right, like morally ethically. Like how can you ask someone for a commitment when you know they don’t even- this is their first year stepping onto high school let alone college.
JESSICA: And this is the thing that’s crazy is look at Oklahoma. Which I don’t know if they’ve done any early recruiting, I haven’t heard anything. Maybe I’m totally wrong. But Spanny Tampson who’s on our show, she calls them the ninja level 10s. Because before they get there, you’ve never heard of anybody really on that team. And they are incredible. Incredible. I’m like you know they’ve gotten to this amazing, they were on this incredible rise in NCAA. And they’re not doing this.
JILL: No. I really value KJ’s recruiting. In fact when she writes about her recruits I don’t know if you know this. But when she wrote about just now signing, she really looks for character. And kind of person that their athlete is. And it’s paying off. I mean obviously she has to have the talent but I think she really likes the level 10s that aren’t burned out and really do have a passion for the sport. In fact I twittered once about passion and heart, and I remember she retweeted it and wrote me back. And I really think that you know and she has some clubs that she really does go to that are her go to clubs where she recruits from. And that’s what you’re going to see more of. I mean it makes sense. It’s like their only form of security is-
JESSICA: Well yeah and I can understand that. I remember hearing from one coach that said he would never ever recruit from a specific gym before because you’re not allowed to ask about injuries before they get to the club and both times he ended up with gymnasts who had multiple fractures and herniations in their backs. And he was like this is so irresponsible. How could these coaches there be letting these kids work out like this. And then it was heartbreaking for the kids too because, ugh. So it’s understandable. So we had a question from one of our listeners who wrote in. And her daughter is a level 9. And she said she’s average on all three events, but she could be an elite on bars. Now this is coming from the mom. But I’m assuming maybe she knows the skills and she’s really really good on bars. So she asked if her daughter should market herself specifically like emphasize, I don’t know specifically as a specialist or if she should say I’m amazing I could fill just this spot for your team.
JILL: Yeah I did that for one of my clients. She was a specialist on vault. And we actually because she was so weak on one other event and ok on the other two, we actually didn’t even post her videos of her weakest event. We just highlighted on her webpage the specialist on vault. You never know. You never know what a coach is looking for. And they could have a really really bad year on bars and maybe only have three kids that they know coming in that are going to be a 10 start value for whatever reason on that event. And they could just scoop up that level 9 kid.
JESSICA: Yeah this totally reminds me I was just talking to a coach who only has I think she was saying she only has four or five people who can even vault at all. Like are capable not injured, whatever.
JILL: Yeah we did that once at Oregon State. We totally did that. We found this girl, she was a cheerleader. And she’s like yeah I do vault. And she was a really good tumbler. We were at a basketball game or something and saw her tumbling and were like do you vault? And she was like yeah I do a handspring front. And we were like well would you be interested? We were that desperate.
JESSICA: Yeah that happens you know. Even big programs, it happens.
JILL: Oh yeah. We did that for sure. Yeah. Mhmm.
JESSICA: So there is another coach I was talking to asked me to mention specifically on this show Wildfire Gymnastics and their recruiting page. Because she said that as a coach, this is hands down the best recruiting page she has ever seen that a gym has. So this isn’t the individual gymnasts. This is the gym. Value added for all you gym owners and coaches. If I’m a parent and I’m looking to get back my money from all these years of gymnastics lessons and there’s a chance, I want a gym that’s going to help my kid get recruited. So tell us about Wildfire page and what makes it so good. From a coach’s perspective why it’s so amazing.
JILL: He is constantly posting the kids in practice. So he gets it. He gets that social media is really the place where people are, coaches are. And so he’s taking the time out of his day to put recruiting as a priority. I mean he’s a great guy and he really feels like that’s his part of his job is to help these kids find colleges. And if you walk in their gym even, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Wildfire, but they have flags of all the colleges. And they’re beautiful. Big flags of all the-
JESSICA: That’s a great idea
JILL: schools their kids have gone to. Yeah so he’s really setting a tone with parents and kids that this is a goal. The actual webpage is good because it has the athlete, it has all the stuff you’d want on a webpage. All the videos and some personal information or stats of their meets.
JESSICA: Yeah every score they’ve ever had
JILL: Every score
JESSICA: And the skill chart. That was what blew me away. I was like this is what coaches want to know, can you do an E something on floor. That’s huge for us you know.
JILL: Yeah. And really coaches take less than two minutes on a kid. Less than two minutes. I have to always remind parents because they always want to write these long great things about their daughter which their daughters are all great, but coaches care about their skills and their GPA in the beginning. Those are the two things that matter. Then if they fulfill those two things then they might read a paragraph about your daughter.
JESSICA: We always promote on this podcast how you never have to give up. If artistic gymnastics isn’t for you, or you are burnt out, there’s another gymnastics sport you can do. You could do acro, you could go into tumbling, you could go on to trampoline, you could do group gymnastics. There’s tons of things. Can you tell people about this new scholarship opportunity for gymnasts I think a lot of people don’t know about?
JILL: Sure. There’s quite a few gymnasts now that are getting recruited to do acro tumbling I think is what it’s called. I know University of Oregon has a program, and they do have scholarships. I don’t know the details. I’m hoping to call the coach and find out more. I know she showed up at Wildfire and looked at a bunch of their gymnasts. And basically I watched some videos and they do some basic tumbling. I think I saw a girl do a double full. But they do a lot of, the need a lot of stronger kids to hold the smaller kids. But they all have to be able to tumble I believe it looks like. But it’s not anywhere near the difficulty that we’re used to in level 10 gymnastics especially elite. So it’s kind of a nice opportunity for some kids who might be injured, have shoulder injuries and they can’t do bars anymore, it’s a nice program to look into. And I think there’s seven universities that have programs and they’re adding more. So might be something some kids should look into.
JESSICA: Yeah acrobatics and tumbling. And can I just say my favorite things about this is it’s not cheerleading, it’s nothing like cheerleading, and you don’t have to dress slutty to do this sport. So you can wear [LAUGHS] you get to wear clothes. You don’t have to do flips in a skirt, which is why I can’t stand cheerleading. But anyways yes, they wear really cool outfits. Like I love, they have these arm sleeves and I love this whole sport is so cool. I’m so excited about it.
JILL: And one thing is their [inaudible]. Think of all the gymnasts in Texas. All those clubs. So they’re going to probably do really well in it. Yeah and someone said Hawaii was adding but I don’t know that that’s true. But wouldn’t that be great?
JESSICA: Who wouldn’t want to go there?
JILL: Anyway, that’s about all I know. I’m looking into it more because two of my clients I think are going to go that direction.
JESSICA: That’s so cool, I love this. Awesome well thank you so much for joining us today. Can you tell people where they can find you online, what your website is?
JILL: Sure. Jhicksconsulting. And I also have a Facebook page and you can find me there. Or Twitter.
JESSICA: Thanks so much!
JILL: Thank you for having me.
ALLISON TAYLOR: This episode is brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. Elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back.
JESSICA: Visit elitesportzband.com, that’s sports with a z and save $5 on your next purchase with the code Gymcast.
JESSICA: This is audio from video shot inside Temple University when the student athletes were told the Friday before finals week that their sports were being cut.
SPEAKER: [inaudible] it has become impossible for this mission to be accomplished between [inaudible]. I made a recommendation that was approved by the president and the board of trustees to eliminate seven sports effective July 1 2014. The seven sports are baseball, softball, men’s crew, women’s rowing, men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, men’s gymnastics. For all the student athletes on scholarship, you will be contingent to receive those scholarship [inaudible]. For the student athletes that choose to transfer we will assist you in any way and you will be eligible to compete at your new institute. I totally understand your pain and disappointment. This is very difficult for me, my staff, my coaching staff. However at the end of the day, this is the right thing to do to maintain [inaudible] where we can compete [inaudible]. We cannot continue to pretend we don’t have a problem and provide a service [inaudible]. I’m very sorry, [inaudible]. Have a packet for you guys that we will share with you when we finish that will provide a lot of good information [inaudible] and a lot of questions I know you guys will have. Thank you.