Alumni meet draws former Gopher greats

Anthony Maggio

Sunday afternoon, the Gophers men’s gymnastics team entered their first meet of the season at the Sports Pavilion.
This was not a competitive match. Rather, it was the 34th annual Alumni Meet. Quite a crowd gathered at the Sports Pavilion to witness this one-of-a-kind event.
“[It is] the only alumni meet like this in the country,” said former gymnast Tim LaFleur. “It’s been growing the last couple of years. I think it’s gotten the reputation of being a fun meet.”
The atmosphere was very lighthearted. The spectators cheered loudly for all competitors. They were visiting with each other, laughing and having a blast the entire afternoon. It seemed more like a company picnic than an athletic competition.
Many former Minnesota gymnasts attended the day’s event, both to participate and to observe. The meet saw the return of Russ Fystrom, who was on the squad from 1970 to 1973, and has competed in the Alumni Meet every year since it began.
Also participating for the Alumni team was three-time Olympian John Roethlisberger, son of current head coach Fred Roethlisberger, and team member from 1990 to 1993.
“It’s a big event,” said John, “not because it’s serious gymnastics, but it really shows alumni support that our program has within the community. A lot of athletes, when they finish here, whether they’re from Minnesota or from another state, tend to stick around. That just shows what a great city we have, and what a lot of pride we have in our gymnastics program.”
Another notable face in the crowd was former Gophers coach Ralph Piper, who directed the gymnastics team for 36 years until Fred Roethlisberger took the helm in 1973. The crowd took a moment during the meet to recognize Piper with an ovation in acknowledgement of the many accomplishments during his tenure.
Although the meet is meant for everyone to have a good time, there is still competition involved. The Alumni team entered Sunday with an unbeaten streak of 33 matches.
“Yeah, we’re dominating,” chuckled Roethlisberger. “I’ve been part of some good varsity teams, and we’ve won Big Ten [conference titles], but you just never win alumni meets.”
The alums kept their streak alive, outscoring the Gophers 214.10 to 199.5. Leading the way for the alums was Frank Ticknor, who finished first in five of the six events.
The current Gophers were led by Clay Strother and Eric Steele, who finished second and third respectively in total points.
“It was our first meet of the year, so obviously we’re not really in top meet performance yet,” said Steele. “But it’s a good atmosphere. The alumni joke around with us a lot, [which] really gets us going and puts us in that team atmosphere. It’s a good experience and I had a lot of fun.”
The competing alums were able to entertain the crowd with not only good gymnastics, but crazy antics as well.
Bart Cramer removed his warm-ups to reveal metallic gold shorts, which he competed in all afternoon.
George Beatty amused the audience by goofing around on the rings.
The Alumni Meet is intended to bring all those in the gymnastic community together in support for the Minnesota team.
“You just look at all of the people who are competing and also in the stands,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s a great feeling, it’s a great thing to see that. It reminds you what you’re apart of: Something very special.”
The 2001 Gophers Gymnastics team opens their season in Chicago on January 13 in the Windy City Invitational.

Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected]