Gene Wettstone, who served as the head men's gymnastics coach at Pennsylvania State University from 1938-76 and played an integral part in the founding and development of USA Gymnastics, celebrates his centennial birthday on July 15, 2013.
Wettstone may be best known for his nine NCAA team titles between 1939-76, the most by any men's gymnastics coach, but his contributions to the sport go beyond his team's exploits on the field of play. He was an important part of the founding and growth of the U.S. Gymnastics Federation, now known as USA Gymnastics. Wettstone was the president of the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches, and did a large part of the work leading up to the founding of USGF. As the president of the National Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches Association, he helped with the early planning and was elected as the temporary chairman of the efforts to create the USGF at the USGF Developmental Meeting in Chicago on Sept. 29, 1962. His administrative and organizational skills were put to work in preparation for the Dec. 9, 1962, meeting in Chicago where the USGF was actually founded. Wettstone also was one of the USGF representatives to the International Gymnastics Federation Congress in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, in October 1970, where the FIG named the USGF as its U.S. representative.
Wettstone's contributions to the USGF helped change the course of gymnastics in the U.S. His work helped streamline the age-group program that eventually lead to Olympic and world gold medals for both men's and women's gymnastics teams. He helped implement safety programs for children and coaches that are vital to gymnastics and other sports programs.
At Penn State, the men's gymnastics program took off when Wettstone took over the coaching duties. The Nittany Lions placed second in the 1942 NCAA Championships and won their first national team title in 1948. In all, Wettstone's teams won nine national championships, finished second five times, had 12 undefeated seasons, and 14 one-loss seasons. They won back-to-back national titles in 1953-54 and three-in-a-row from 1959-61. His athletes won nine NCAA all-around titles and 31 NCAA individual event champions. Wettstone also coached 12 Olympians. Four of his students went on to be NCAA coaches whose teams won national team titles.
Wettstone was the only coach who was able to promote men's gymnastics to such an extent that more than 7,000 fans attended Penn State's regular season meets. He was considered a master showman and carefully orchestrated the music, equipment layout and athlete marches for his home competitions. He also brought Soviet and Chinese Olympians to compete in the USA.
Wettstone served as a coach at the 1948 and 1956 Olympic Games; was a judge at the 1952 and 1968 Olympic Games; and was the team manager at the 1976 Olympic Games. Wettstone also served on the Olympic Gymnastics Committee for 20 years and on the NCAA Gymnastics Committee for 18 years. His accolades included: USGF's Master of Sport Award; USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame; University of Iowa's Lifetime Achievement Award; Helms Hall of Fame; Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame; and NACGC Coach of the Year.
As a gymnast at the University of Iowa, Wettstone was the Big 10 all-around, pommel horse and horizontal bar champion. He earned both his BS and MS degrees at Iowa. Wettstone still lives in State College, Pa.
To learn more about Wettstone, read an article that ran in the Penn State "Collegian" in April 2010 at http://www.collegian.psu.edu/archive/2010/04/21/wettstones_legacy_endures.aspx.
Sources: "The History of USA Gymnastics: the early years through 1991," an official Wettstone biography, and "A history of the Development of the U.S. Gymnastics Federation."