Penn State Sports Archives honors Gene Wettstone

Penn State University Sports Archives has created a special Flickr site in honor of former gymnastics coach Gene Wettstone, who died July 30, at age 100. The site, http://www.flickr.com/photos/pennstatespecial/sets/72157634668048976/, features a selection of photos from his coaching days and includes some candid snapshots of his family life.

Wettstone was first hired to coach gymnastics at Penn State in 1938. He coached until 1976, when he accomplished his ninth national title. Under his guidance, Penn State gymnasts were responsible for dozens of individual titles, with three of his gymnasts, Steve Cohen, Bob Emery and Gene Whelan, winning the Nissen-Emery Award—the highest honor given to the top-male gymnast in the country. Thirteen of his gymnasts competed in the Olympics. Wettstone himself participated in five Olympic Games, twice as coach, twice as a judge, and once as a manager.

Eugene “Gene” Wettstone was born in 1913, in West New York, New Jersey, and grew up with his brother and sister in nearby Union City. His parents were from Switzerland, and Wettstone grew up speaking both Swiss and German. He learned his third language, English, when he went to grade school. He was introduced to gymnastics at the age of 10.

He had an uncle who was the gymnastics coach at the University of Iowa, and after a very successful high school career, Wettstone decided to align his talents with gymnastics. His skills on the side horse and the horizontal bar garnered him the “Big Ten All-Around Award” twice. While at a dance, he met his bride to be, Eleanor, whom he married in 1937.

When Wettstone became a Penn State coach, gymnastics was not popular. To build up interest, he organized “The Penn State Circus,” even donning the Lion Mascot suit for a short time to generate interest. He is credited with changing the Nittany Lion from an African lion with a mane, to the mountain lion that is known and loved by Penn State fans today.

Beginning in 1954, Wettstone was responsible for organizing international meets at Rec Hall. Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Bulgaria, Finland, Scandinavia, the USSR and the University of Cologne all competed here in a show of good sportsmanship and unity.

Known as “Mr. Gymnastics,” Wettstone was never content with being one of the most successful collegiate coaches ever.  When not in the gym, he managed to find time to be a gardener, collect and restore antiques, manage a bee colony and even make his own cider.

For additional information about the Sports Archives and this Flickr site, contact Paul Dzyak at 814-865-2123 or pjd106@psu.edu or Paul Karwacki at 814-863-9870 or ppk107@psu.edu.

Last Updated August 19, 2013