FSU Women's Gymnastics

between 1950 and 1960


FSU Women's Gymnastics History

Memories of Don & Connie Holder

In the early fifties the women at FSU did not have competitive sports, rather it was called "Play Days." It was considered too strenuous psychologically for the girls to have the score reflect a winner, so it was basically a fun session. Dr. Katie Montgomery was head of so-called women's athletics. She was a remarkable teacher. Almost all of the Gymnasts had her for several courses and held her in high regard. She loved all of us and catered to all. The girls on the Gym team were organized by Connie and paid their own fare to the meet in Chicago where they won their event. Upon returning to the campus, each girl was called in front of Dr. Montgomery and literally chewed out for being in competition and thus no recognition was given to this team.

Connie & I arrived in Tallahassee in 1951 to find no women's apparatus. At that time Connie was nationally ranked and potentially able to obtain a spot on the 1952 Olympic team with me. A beam was built, however, no uneven bars were purchased, eliminating Connie's chance for the team.

We have written this just in case some of you were wondering why the women were not as prominent as the men during the fifties. However, things did change. As you can see by the images below there was a women's team by 1960, and, as if President Kennedy had challenged these women instead of the space program in the fifties, Gail Sontgerath made it from the FSU campus to the US Olympic team before the decade was out.


The first FSU team to win a Women's National Championship.

The unchallenged title for this women's team is that like the men's team, they were also the first women's team to win a national championship in any sport from any college or university in the state of Florida.


L-R: Ann Tucker, Barbara Vickers, Barbara Rynski, Connie Holder, Frances Stokes, Paula Rowe


Historical Documents

Thanks to Janice Eberly Anastasato we have the program from the 1955 South Florida Gymnastic Championships (Olympic Development Meet) that was held at the Naples High School, Saturday, November 26th, 1955, The Tallahassee Gym Club's Drill Team took first place - for more on this see Beverley Cude Beaton's write up of her FSU experiences below or on the "FSU Gymnastics History" page. In addition to Bev competing in several "Senior Girl" categories there was also a girl competing in the "Under 15" from West Palm by the name of Gail Sontgerath from which we would hear more.

1955 South Florida Gymnastic Championships

Note: Jan was on that first place drill team with Bev and Barbara Withers.

Bev took first place in the Senior Girls All-Around.

Also from Jan's scrapbook a letter from the Dean of Women's office to instructor's of girls "competing on their own" (not sponsored or know to FSU) in the 1956 Olympic trials at Penn State.

Dean of Women's letter to Instructors

See Beverley Cude Beaton's write up below for more information and perspective on these two documents.



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.

Click photo to see a larger version with names

Click photo to see a larger version with names


Beverley Cude’s FSU Gymnastics Experience

Beverley Cude was first exposed to gymnastics in her home town, Canada’s Copper mining center of Noranda, Quebec at the Noranda Gymnastics Club. The club had recently affiliated with Czech Sokol gymnastics organization, and the team traveled to Montreal to compete against a Sokol contingent from Toronto.  There, In July of 1955 Bev took two firsts and one second place, helping the Women’s' Team to take first overall in the Ladies High Division All-around. A little later that month, she participated in the Canadian National Gymnastics Championships held in Windsor, Ontario and placed third in the Women’s All-Around competition.

In the fall of 1955 Bev was at Tallahassee’s Florida State University due to an athletic scholarship offered to her by Dr. Hartley Price, the gymnastics coach. In Tallahassee, she would find an entirely different view of female athletic competition. Dr. Katie Montgomery's fears of damaging women's psyche through competition surfaced yet again in her case, years after Don and Connie Holder’s experience. She won the Women's All-around championship at the South Florida Gymnastics Championships held in November in Naples, Florida.  The FSU Women's Team Drill, of which she was also a member, took first place as well.  Soon after returning to the campus, she was summoned to Dr. Katie Montgomery's office to be informed that FSU would not finance or support her in those endeavors and, that if she persisted, she would risk losing the gymnastic out-of- state tuition "scholarship" granted to her by Dr. Price. 
With no further funding by the university being a possibility, Bev’s competitive career was substantially diminished.   However, she and two others did go, at their own expense, and on a horrendous bus trip, to the Penn State Olympic Trials in 1956.  She competed listed as "unattached" to avoid the wrath of Katie Montgomery when she returned to Tallahassee.  It was just good and most enjoyable experience for her.  

The only other competition for Bev while at FSU was at the NAAU Gymnastic Finals held in Chicago in 1957.   Her parents managed to provide the air fare from Atlanta to Chicago, and the FSU male gymnasts helped to "smuggle" her by car to Atlanta.  Every time Dr. Price's car came anywhere close to the vehicle she was in, she was warned to crouch down in order to avoid being seen.  Dr. Price never did question how she managed to get to Chicago.  She managed to place in one event:  6th on the balance beam, one place behind fellow Canadian gymnast, Ernestine Russell, who had qualified for the Olympics in 1956. However, attitudes were beginning to change as Gail Sontgerath was about to begin her FSU gymnastics career with the women’s Olympic gymnastic team as her goal.

Bev and Jack Miles discussing the events at the Penn State Olympic Trials in 1956.