Chapter 19

Lee Bjella 2015


(Note from Lee: When I was looking up what had already been written about boys high school gymnastics in Washington State, especially by Bob Bosse in his 1971 theses, I had to wonder what he would think today to see the demise of the boys high school programs. When he recorded the state champion winners, boys’ high school gymnastics was thriving and would continue for another ten years. It has been bittersweet to look back and research this information and wonder what happened to all the coaches and what caused the end of the boys program.)

Early Years in Washington

Prior to 1950 there had been no high school teams in the state that could actually be called a gymnastics team. Gymnastics was taught in the schools, and tumbling teams were in evidence, like the one at Roosevelt High that was started by Sheridan Berthiaume in 1922.

Mr. Sheridan (Sherry) Berthiaume, taught Physical Education at the Seattle YMCA from 1914-16. When Roosevelt High School opened in 1922, he was hired and had tumbling classes every morning before school started. George Lewis and his brother participated in them. Louis Hall took it over in 1936. Bob Lind continued until 1970.

(One of Sherry's gymnasts in 1932 was future UW and Olympic Gold Medalist rower, Joe Rantz. Read about Joe and the rowing team in Boys In The Boat by Dan Brown. This photo is from the Roosevelt year book, provided by Joe's granddaughter, gymnastics coach, Jen Huffman. Joe is standing in back row next to Coach Berthiaume.)






THE 1950’S

''On December 2, 1952, Charles Thuot of Kennewick High School, wrote to Hubie Dunn (pictured at left), WSU men’s gymnastics coach (they were former college gymnasts at Southern Illinois College). Thout asked for materials for teaching skills and how to form a team. Mr. Thuot said they had the following equipment; stall bars, high bar, trampoline, a horse, parallel bars, springboards, rings and plenty of mats. Books were recommended, including The Tumbler's Manual by Laporte and Renner, and the Navy's Gymnastics and Tumbling written by Price. (Price was Eric Hughes’ coach.)

From newspaper articles, it appears that Thuot had a gymnastic or exhibition group by February of 1953. In 1953 at near-by Wapato High School, Paul Hurd began a high school tumbling team. Wapato and Kennewick High Schools probably got together for unofficial competitions, at least in tumbling. On December 10, 1955, Paul Hurd indicated that tumbling and trampoline might become a lettered sport at their school. In 1955 Kennewick High School seems to have had the only official boy’s high school gymnastics team. In 1955-'56, Hubie Dunn was away on sabbatical at the University of Illinois and Gerry McHugh was coach at WSU. Richland, Wapato, and Sunnydale High Schools sponsored tumbling and trampoline teams.

Records show that on March 26,1956 an unofficial meet was held between these schools. Competition was limited to tumbling and trampoline.

Enthusiasm for gymnastics in high school was growing in Western Washington due to the efforts of Hubie Dunn and Eric Hughes' exhibitions. By 1955-'56, gymnastic groups were established at Renton High School under Al Armstrong; at Highline High School under Everett Woodward, at Roosevelt under Lou Hull, at Shoreline under Max Carter, at Queen Anne under Erwin Hinkel, and at West Seattle under Lloyd Doty and Woody Ullin. Toppenish High School also had a tumbling group with Byron Grubb as coach. Sumner and Bellevue also had active gymnastic groups coached by Loren Felver and Rudy Peterson, respectively. Through the efforts of Owen Leonard there was a growing interest in gymnastics at Sylvester Junior High in the Highline District. By 1957, Shoreline High School had a gymnastics team under Max Carter.

The first Coaches Clinic was held by Eric Hughes (photo at left - Eric in his 1972 Olympic coaching uniform) on December 14,1956. On December 20th, the first high school invitational meet was held at UW. A total of 47 gymnasts participated. Of the 12 schools represented, 6 had organized teams. A special ruling by the Seattle School District, did not allow Seattle schools to compete in a team title, so unofficially, Roosevelt would have been in third place.

On March 16, 1957, gymnasts from Richland, Wapato and Kennewick met at Kennewick for a gymnastic meet. Hubert Dunn was Head Judge. Competition was in trampoline, tumbling, high bar, parallel bars, still and flying rings, hand balancing, and rope climb - 8 events. Only optional routines were performed. They were scored on the basis of 0 = no performance; 2 = very defective; 4 = fair; 6 = satisfactory; 8 = good; 9 = perfect. The final scores were: Kennewick 88; Wapato 13; and Richland 7.

During the season of 1957-'58 the cities of Kennewick under Chuck Thuot, Richland under Rex Davis and Wapato under Paul Hurd competed in two different meets in February.

On December 18, 1957, the second coaches clinic was held at UW under Eric Hughes. Fourteen different junior and senior highs were represented. The second UW high school invitational meet was held Dec. 19, 1957. The results were; (1) Highline (2) Como Lake (3) Shoreline (4) Renton (5) Blanchett (6) Kennewick (7) Lynnwood Junior High and (8) Lincoln High School. Terry Hildebrand from Highline was the all-around winner with 76.0 points.

Washington State held its invitational meet at Pullman on March 15, 1958. The teams entered were Highline (Ev Woodward), Kennewick (Chuck Thuot), Richland (Rex Davis), Monroe (Cliff Gilles), Mead (Don Aries), and Wenatchee (Paul Pugh). Records show Wenatchee did not make it to the meet. Terry Hildebrand and Ken Lombardo (Highline) were 1 and 2 in all-around. 3rd all-around went to Rodney McDonald (Kennewick). Other individual firsts were Mickey Shirey on flying rings and Doyle Hankins on trampoline - both from Richland.

The Coaches Clinic of 1958 was attended by 39 interested individuals representing 19 different schools and 15 different cities. The UW’s 3rd High School Invitational had the same schools as previously mentioned plus the addition of Everett, Shoreline, Weatherwax (Aberdeen), Roosevelt and Olympic Junior High. First place went to Terry Hildebrand, Richard Impson, 2nd of Lynnwood Junior High, Jim David, 3rd of Blanchett followed by Mike Vergillo of Renton.

An unusual meet, entitled The Olympic Development Program was sponsored by the AAU and the site was Highline stadium. It was an outdoor meet (co-ed?) held in June and it was held at night. Due to the night moisture the beam was slippery and hard to stay on.

On December 12,1959, a gymnastic clinic was held at the gym in Richland. Thuot and Davis were the sponsors. Also helping were Dunn of WSU and Kaufman of Eastern Washington University. Sessions were held on side horse, tumbling, men's and women's free exercise, trampoline, balance beam, parallel bars, high bar, uneven bars, still and flying rings, rope climbing, judging and coaching. The clinic ended with an informal meet for high school and college levels.

The sport of competitive gymnastics on the high school level (boys) was recognized by WIAA in 1959. Prior to this time the Association had acted somewhat as an advisory agency, but now they recognized and controlled the sport. Sixteen Washington schools registered with the Association the first year.

On the West side of Washington, Shoreline, Evergreen, Highline and Monroe had gymnastic teams. In December of 1959 the Coaches Clinic had been expanded to include judging for both men and women. Presentations were given by several nationally ranked individuals in their respective events.

At the 1958-‘59 State Meet, Highline won with 158.5 points. 2nd place went to Kennewick with 93.0, 3rd Renton with 64.0 and Richland was 4th with 45.5 points. Of the ten events, Highline gymnasts won every event, with Terry Hildebrand taking seven of those events. (The ten events were: all-around, rope climb, side horse, horizontal bar, still rings, trampoline, parallel bars, free exercise, flying rings, and tumbling.)

Terry HildebrandHighline won the state championship title from 1956 through 1969, then again from 1962-1964, 1966 and in 1967. (Unfortunately, Terry Hildebrand broke his neck and was paralyzed from a fall from the high bar while on the UW team. Eric Hughes in 2015 - then 92 years old, stated that Terry would have been a national champion - "he was that good.")



THE 1960’S

In 1960 there were two high school invitationals held - February 27 at UW and March 12 at Washington State University. The teams competing in order of winning were Highline, Renton, Kennewick, Richland, Blanchett, Shadle Park, Spokane, Chehalis, Centralia, Ephrata and Olympia. The all around winners were Steve Woodward and Stu Rehnstrom of Highline.

In the 1960-61 season Thorne Tibbitts was now the coach at Eastern Washington University. High school teams competing during the season of 1960-‘61 were Richland, Kennewick, Spokane YMCA, Shadle Park, Bellevue, Glacier, Mt. Rainier, Highline, Renton, Chehalis, Elma, Olympia, Centralia, Marysville and Monroe. Teachers at the gymnastic clinic on December 10,1960 included Bob Sarver of Highline High School, Ev Woodward of Seattle U and Frank Hailand of UW.

In 1961 two high school invitationals were held on the same day. One at the UW and the other at WSU. Schools participating were Mt. Rainier under Coach George Hammond, Blanchett, Renton, Highline, and Richland. There were 55 competitors and 9 schools. In 1962 Dunn resigned his position at Washington State as teacher and coach to accept a similar position at Northern Illinois in DeKalb, Illinois. Dunn was called “the father of intercollegiate gymnastics in the West”.

Richland continued to be the top team in Eastern Washington and Highline was the power in the west. Renton was following close behind. In 1962 Highline held its first invitational meet. Winners were Highline 1st place, Renton 2nd, Glacier 4th, Issaquah 5th, Bothell 7th and West Bremerton 8th.

On January 13th, Eric Hughes held his 6th annual Coaches Clinic. Instruction was given in both men’s and women’s gymnastics with special emphasis on coaching and teaching techniques. The clinic staff included Dorothy MacLean, George Lewis, Mary Sarver, Al Armstrong, Charlie Denny and Bob Schwarzkopf.

Highline’s second Invitational Meet was held on January 13,1962 - teams were Highline, Renton, Richland, Glacier, Issaquah, Kennewick, Bothell and West Bremerton.

Washington State’s Invitational High School Meet was held in Pullman March 9th and 10th. Ten schools participated. With a score of 195, Highline regained the title they had lost to Renton in 1961. Renton was second with 141.5 and Richland third with 70.5.

Bob Julin was a member of Highline's State Championship team in 57-58 and 58-59. In 1964 he began teaching at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle where he started a strong intramural gymnastics program for boys and girls, including competition with other Seattle schools. He was instrumental in getting gymastics recognized as a varsity sport in Seattle in the early 1970s. In 1970, the first year the Nathan Hale boys team competed in the state meet, they won the Team Championship. Over the next 5 years the team placed 2nd, 4th and 6th in State. Bob's gymnasts won the State All Around title 3 times, and 9 individual event championships, as well as many Metro League and Regional team and event championships. Bob also coached Hale's girls team in the mid-seventies.

THE 1970’S

In May, of 1971, the 16th annual Washington State High School Gymnastics Meet was held at WSU. Four district meets were held the previous week, to qualify the boys. Bothel won Region 1, Highline won Region 2, West Seattle won the Region 3 title, eliminating last years state champ, and went on to win State.

In the early 1970’s, most of the Eastern Washington high school teams had been discontinued.  In 1971, only eight were left. In Spokane, the horizontal bar competition had been discontinued because a boy had died in an accident in this event.

In the 1973-74 school year, the Boys’ Tournament became the Official State Tournament.

Kent-Meridian, coached by Gunter Borhman, came on in 1973 to win the state meet, again in 1975 and then from 1977 through 1981. Gunter coached six state all-around champions. In 1977, Tom Hardin won the All-Around and every event except rings, in which he placed 2nd. Tom went on to compete at Iowa State University and was on the 1980 National Team, placing 11th at the Olympic Trials.

THE 1980’s

The last WIAA sponsored State Meet was in 1981. Many schools then dropped their gymnastics programs, but those few that hung on did have a “state meet.”

Gunter Bohrman was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, Jan. 7,1940, died Jan. 5, 2006 in Renton, WA. after a two-year battle with cancer. Gunter competed on a club team in his hometown and later on the German National Team (1960-1962). After graduating from high school in 1959, he attended the University of Mainz, majoring in English.

He came to America in 1962, attended UW and competed on their gymnastics team. He wasn’t planning on staying in America when he first came here! BA in English and in 1967 his Masters in PE.
Pacific Northwest All Around Champion.
1963 he was Pacific NW champ on Horizontal Bar, P.Bars, Long Horse, and All-Around for UW.
1964 Olympic Trials.
1965 he was AAU Junior Champion in floor ex., long horse, and parallel bars.
1968 he was on the Seattle Gymnastics Club Team that toured Asia.
Taught and coached the boy's team (1962-1982) at Kent-Meridian High School. He had 5 league championships, 15 regional championships and 8 state championships. They were ranked #1 in the nation in 1979.
Coached the girl's team from 1985 -2000 when he retired. He came back in 2003 to assist with the Sumner girl's team. 3 league championships, 4 district championships and 1 state championship.
High School Girls Coach of the Year 1989 and 2001.
Coached at Jerry Penney's Christmas Camps in the 1970's.
Coached many future coaches. (Joe Rapp, Gordy, Bert and Kevin Bylin, Mike and Tony Yonomitzu, John Diaz, Tom Hardin (1980 National Team ) and Kelly Donyes).
WSGCA Hall of Fame 2002.
USA Gymnastics WA Hall of Fame 2005.

His influence on both girls and boys high school gymnastics in this state is profound. His teams were power houses in the state in the 1970’s. Many of the boys he coached also went on to coach. Gunter retired from teaching and coaching in 2001, but in 2003-'04 he was back helping coach the girl’s team at Sumner High School.

Jerry Penney was a gymnast at WSU, then he became an assistant coach at WSU for Bob Peavy in 1969 and '70. He came over to the west side of the state where he taught and coached. He ran the “Christmas Clinic” at Sammamish High School in the 1970’s. Some of his clinicians were Bob Peavy, head coach at WSU; Eric Hughes, head coach UW; Jack Benson, head coach of Eastern Washington State College; Dick Foxal, assistant coach, UW; Sergio Luna, University of Utah; Jim Sullivan, Bothell High School; Gunter Bohrman, Kent - Meridian High School Coach; and Dubi Lufi, Israeli Olympian and former WSU gymnast. Jerry went on to coach girls gymnastics at Sammamish High School for decades.(photo below is Jerry doing his Penney German)

Quotes from Bob Sarver coach of the Highline High Boy’s Team in interview with Lee Bjella, summer of 2002:
“ Terry Hildebrand…was the first really great gymnast that we had up there (at Highline). He trained with George Lewis and Ev Woodward and with me for a year. He was Canadian junior national champion is 1958, I guess. Just superb in the all-around. Just superb. Went to the UW and had a crippling injury. Doing a hecht dismount over the high bar, he flipped his legs up too high and soared over and landed on his head on the mats. He had a telescoping of the vertebrae. Lost all function from his hips on down.”

“Steve Woodward came after him, and Stu Wenstrom and they carried on. They (the high school boys) were throwing stunts at that time that were very close to what the college kids were throwing.”

“Terry’s younger brother Marvin came up about six years later and the two boys, each one, took thirteen first places at state, in the individual titles. They were throwing stalders on the high bar. Front and back. We had kids who were throwing German Giants. No double backs - probably could have pushed double backs on the floor ex but we were working on the wood. And when you are working on wood… The best tumbler I ever had was a kid named Danny Winters who mounted with a round off handspring, double twist on the floor. The second pass was a cartwheel, side cartwheel side. And then he dismounted with a round off, handspring full. All that was on wood. Good performer.”

“At that time, we had the six all around events plus trampoline, and rope climb. Thank goodness the swinging rings disappeared within two years and the rope climb disappeared. Let’s see, Mike McCarthy was 1965, that was the last year we had rope climb. He set the state record at four seconds flat. And then the trampoline disappeared about two years after that.”

How many championships did you have?
“Let’s see, Ev had two, then in '58-'59 was my first one - and we had seven. Then one year we lost the state by one point to Renton. (Dale Shirley’s team) Then we came back and won two more then we lost to Jim Sullivan (Bothel) by one-half point in the state meet. Then, my all-around kid’s really started to function, and we doubled and tripled all the team scores.”

Do you think it was title IX that caused the boys program to be dropped?
“No, it was the lack of coaches. We didn’t have the influx of kids from the gym programs that the girls had.  And therefore all the coaches had to be coaches from the school and the (colleges) just did not prepare high school coaches. Like some of the real fine performers for Eric Hughes from UW. Bill Crow, Charlie Denny, they each coached for two or three years. Gunter (Bohrman) is the one who stayed in (coaching.).”

Why do you think they stopped coaching?
“The biggest thing was facilities. Equipment was another one, cost. And then finding a season. It ended up being a spring sport. In spring you’ve got baseball, track, tennis. It was just too many hassles getting coaches and facilities. In the winter they had wrestling, basketball, and the gyms were just tied up”

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