HISTORY OF WOMENS’ GYMNASTICS AT FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY BEFORE THE OFFICIAL “TEAMS” OF THE 1960’S.

Barbara Murray Withers

In 1954, when I arrived at FSU, with a gymnast friend (who was here on scholarship) from Boston, MA, I found that the world was centered around Montgomery Gym. Even though I was working full time in Tallahassee, it was necessary to go to the gym after work to “work out” with everyone else, as that was the axis of the entire social life of the group - work out, work out, work out, practice, every day and every night.

I was not a gymnast when I arrived, but I had been a swimmer and diver and had taken ballet lessons on Beacon Hill with my gymnast friend, Bob Murray. Therefore, it was not difficult to learn to be a gymnast, under the expert and patient guidance of Connie Holder, my “coach” who also worked downtown and went to the gym to work out after a long day’s work. Everyone was practicing for the annual Gymkana show, so it was natural to learn the ladies’ drill team routine and participate in that. Also, I learned balance beam, floor exercise, uneven parallel bars and vaulting. The following year, 1955, Beverly Cude arrived from Canada (on some type of scholarship) and Boots Nesselrod arrived from Illinois (also on some type of scholarship). By then I was working at the university business office and taking classes at no charge as an employee, so no scholarship was needed. At any rate, we worked together on the apparatus and performed on the balance beam at Gymkana and on our many road shows, i.e., to Apopka, Sarasota & St. Petersburg FL, Troy AL, Thomasville GA, and many, many others. As I recall, on these many road shows, Bev and I used to spot each other on the balance beam, consisting of a piece of wood on saw horses, from which we would get many, many splinters…nothing like the sophisticated balance beam equipment of today.

In 1956, Bev, Boots and I decided we were going to learn the compulsory exercises and go to the Olympic Trials at Penn St College, Nittany PA. The entire men’s’ team was going by plane and we were hoping to accompany them. However, after long months of hard work preparing for the trials, we were called into Ms. Kate Montgomery’s office and told that in no way could we represent the university at the Olympic Trials, as, in her opinion, gymnastics were not “ladylike.” Further, if we wanted to go to the trials, we would have to pay our own way, as the university would not allow us to go. This was even though we were all students at the university, performed in the Gymkana shows, both at the university and on the road, worked out in the gym every day, and were on gymnastics scholarships.

After 3 long days and 4 nights on a Greyhound bus, Bev, Boots & I arrived at Penn State for the April 27-28, 1956 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Thanks to Bruce Davis, whose sister, Olympian Muriel Davis, was also in the trials, I have an original program of that event, showing not only the FSU men who competed but also us 3 women. In looking at the program today, in calisthenics, in which I was listed as #28, Bev as #29 and Boots as #42, there were two other “Tallahassee Gym Club” entrants, #43 and #44. I don’t recall how Lynne Firell and Julia McCoy got to Pennsylvania, as I don’t believe they rode on the bus with us. Perhaps we can find them and find out. I note that Bev & I (at #’s 28 & 29, which #s we kept for all events we entered) were the only 2 from FSU entered in the “Women’s All-Around” and the following men from FSU were entered in the “Men’s All-Around” representing “Fla. State Gymkana”: #1 John Miles, #5 Donald Holder, #17 Rafael Lecuona, #18 Chick Cicio, #21 Jamile Ashmore, #27 Miraslav Ciska (aka Miroslav Ceska); also former FSU gymnast #25 Carmine Regna, then with the U.S. Army. Other FSU men competing (but not in the all-around) were:#61 Ronald Amster, #85 James Hanks, #89 Laird Anderson, #92 Lawrence Bestmann,#94 Joseph Taylor, #95 Robert Murray,#96 Roger Webb,#97 Joseph Gusic, #98 Don Preisser#, 99 Bruno Klaus.