Penn State men heading back to Rec Hall for game

UNIVERSITY PARK – Penn State is moving a men’s basketball game back to its former home at a cozy campus gym for the first time in nearly two decades.

The Nittany Lions announced Wednesday that the nonconference game Dec. 14 against Princeton would be played at Rec Hall.

Penn State last played there Jan. 7, 1996 – a 79-50 win over Wisconsin – before moving to the Jordan Center, a larger campus facility with a capacity of more than 15,200.

Rec Hall’s capacity is about 6,300. The basketball team had played there for more than six decades.

Some fans had been clamoring for years to bring hoops back to the facility. Coach Patrick Chambers said the program listened to alumni and hoped the game would help instill tradition in his players.

Coaching great dies

UNIVERSITY PARK – The Pennsylvania State University and college athletics is mourning the passing of former men’s gymnastics head coach Gene Wettstone, a legend in the sport of gymnastics and the record-holder for most NCAA men’s team championships by a single coach in the sport.

Wettstone, who celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this month, died Tuesday morning in State College. Known for his foresight in the gym and his knack for promoting his program, Wettstone was inducted into the United States Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1963.

“Gene Wettstone touched the lives of numerous Penn State student-athletes and countless others throughout the gymnastics community,” said Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner. “He is viewed as the John Wooden of college gymnastics and was very highly respected worldwide in the gymnastics communities. Coach Wettstone was a great person and an outstanding tutor that brought Penn State and collegiate gymnastics to the forefront. He will be deeply missed by Penn Staters and many others around the world.”

A member of the Penn State coaching staff for 36 seasons, Wettstone led the Nittany Lions to nine NCAA team championships and 13 Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League crowns. He compiled over 200 dual meet victories, coached his student-athletes to 35 individual national titles and produced 13 Olympians before retiring from coaching.

The Gene Wettstone Award, which is awarded to the top Nittany Lion gymnast each year, was founded in 1976 upon his retirement and internationally acclaimed artist Richard MacDonald created the sculpture that was dedicated in honor of Wettstone in 2006. The sculpture, which is on permanent display in the Penn State All-Sports Museum, depicts a gymnast strained in the execution of a move called the “Flair” and exalts the determination, tenacity, and dedication inherent in the pursuit of excellence that Wettstone constantly strove for.

At Penn State, Wettstone oversaw 26 major events at Rec Hall, including three NCAA men’s championships, including the 1960 event which Penn State won, and four Olympic Trials. He also set a then-national record when 8,114 spectators attended a home meet versus Southern Connecticut State on Feb. 4, 1978. Crowds in excess of 7,000 were the norm in the late 60’s after Rec Hall’s expansion.

Three of Wettstone’s performers went on to win the Nissen-Emery Award, given annually to the nation’s top gymnast: Steve Cohen (1967), Bob Emery (1969) and Gene Whelan (1976) all earned the sport’s top distinction. Emery had his name attached to the award in 1997 for his contributions to the sport.

Wettstone made two tours as the head coach of the U.S. Olympic men’s gymnastics team, serving as the frontman in 1948 and 1956, and was the manager of the 1976 U.S. Olympic squad. He was an Olympic judge during the 1952 and 1968 games and served on the U.S. Olympic Committee for 20 years. He also served as the national AAU Vice-Chairperson from 1948-1956 and was a member of the NCAA Gymnastics Committee for 18 years.

Wettstone also experienced success as a gymnast at the University of Iowa, earning Big Ten titles on the pommel horse, high bar and in the all-around as a senior in 1937. Other awards for Wettstone include the Lifetime Achievement Award from his alma mater, as the Iowa Letterman’s Club bestowed the honor upon him in 2005.