By Monica Alonzo
By Ray Stern
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Robrt L. Pela
Turoff reiterates that the death of college men's gymnastics is not at all a given. And he expresses dismay that Charles Harris misrepresented the state of affairs when he announced the end of ASU's men's gymnastics program.
"Charles was on our committee in name only," Turoff says. "He had good excuses, but he missed our last two annual meetings and he wasn't present to discuss the major changes we've made and are contemplating. He was not a factor."
But Charles Harris and the other powers that be at ASU didn't wait to see how things panned out nationally. Instead, Harris called a press conference and killed a bunch of dreams.
@body:Surrounded by a quarter-century of his memories, Don Robinson holds court at his tiny office at Sun Devil Stadium. The office teems with a diverse mix of international curios and American pop culture among photographs of gymnasts in full flight. Wooden masks from such places as Japan, Mexico, Korea and Bali stare down at visitors from one corner; mementos of Disneyland crowd another.
Robinson is a 62-year-old with a bounce in his step and a sharp wit that recent events have honed. He battled prostate cancer last year and, fingers crossed, it's in remission. On this day--a few days after Charles Harris lowered the boom on his venerable program--Robinson is a gracious man. He leans back against his roll-top desk and faces a visitor, who is sitting in a barber's chair the coach brought in years ago.
Robinson has been an outspoken and effective ambassador for his sport since he first stepped onto the ASU campus in 1969. His is an unusual program in that he has always kept onboard any aspiring gymnast who shows up for practice and sticks with it.
About half of the members of this year's team are walk-ons who pay full tuition to ASU. Ten gymnasts share the seven scholarships the NCAA allows the sport. Robinson treats walk-ons and scholarship athletes the same, his gymnasts say.
Robinson is not cantankerous by nature, but the recent events have been enough to send him through the roof when he gets revved up.
"Of course, I knew we were in trouble, but it's much more than that," he says. "They never told us we were going to be gone by a certain date. I guess we were supposed to read between the lines. You know, there's a sacred cow here that no one will ever touch--football. We didn't incur their debt."
And Robinson read with anger last week a newspaper column in which ASU basketball coach Bill Frieder humorously discussed paying $200,000 for a horse for his equestrian daughter.
"That's about what it costs to run our program for one year," Robinson says. "This is a crazy world when a college basketball coach--a college basketball coach, for gosh sakes!--can buy a horse for that amount of money."
Robinson also describes with disgust how the 100-strong ASU football team stays at a local hotel the night before each home game.
"I know that's a common practice for Division I schools," he says, then adds, voice dripping with sarcasm, "Oh, I forgot. I'm talking about football. I'm sorry. I forgot."
Cole Albon, an injured gymnast from Tulsa, Oklahoma, hobbles into Robinson's office to say hello. Albon is one of the team's many walk-ons, a business major who excelled on the pommel horse before his knee gave out.
"I've been working hard to rehab my knee and I'm going to get there," Albon says, "but I'm kind of feeling that I'm done in gymnastics because of what's happened. It's an empty feeling. I've been doing this since I was a little kid."
As Albon leaves, an ASU coach from another sport drops by to commiserate with Robinson. The other coach blasts ASU's athletic hierarchy for its shortsightedness, then leaves after exacting a promise of anonymity.
Burrell is part of a cottage industry spawned by Robinson's program. Five ASU gymnasts now work as NBA mascots, including the current Phoenix Suns' Gorilla and mascots in Seattle, Charlotte and Indianapolis. And someday those fellows may be joined by a sixth: Gymnast Paul Bedewi plans to try out next year for the job of Sparky, the Sun Devil mascot.
"Rocket" Burrell offers to lend Robinson whatever support he can.
"Anyone who has gone through the program will attest to the benefits he is recouping now," Burrell says. "My training with Coach Robinson comes into play daily--performance, dealing with the public, organization. What has happened shocked and disappointed me."
After Burrell hangs up, Robinson tries to summarize the onslaught of emotions that have welled up in him since ASU terminated his program.
"Let me put it like this," he says. "I've taught my guys that if they worked hard and stayed clean, things would work out for them in gymnastics and, more important, after gymnastics. Now the big shots at ASU are trying to take something from my kids for no good reason. I can't forgive them and neither can my kids."
@body:The gymnastics meet with the University of Michigan has just ended in a narrow win for ASU. The team gathers around the coaches in a corner of the arena for a brief postmeet critique.
After they're done, each of the gymnasts--those who have competed and those in street clothes--wordlessly approaches Don Robinson. Each athlete shares a special, complicated handshake with his coach.
Then these little warriors walk toward the ASU locker room, maybe for one of the final times as teammates.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city