Don Tonry Invitational honors late gymnastics coach

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Don Tonry with a student. (Photo by Philipp Arndt)

The Yale gymnastics team will host the first Don Tonry Invitational at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31 in the John J. Lee Amphitheater, located inside Payne Whitney Gymnasium, 70 Tower Pkwy.

The invitational is named in honor of the former U.S. Olympian (1960) and Yale gymnastics coach, who served as an instructor and inspirational mentor to generations of student-athletes.

Bridgeport and Southern Connecticut State universities and Rhode Island College will compete in the meet alongside Yale. Awards bearing Tonry’s likeness will be presented by his long-time friend and U.S. Olympic teammate Abie Grossfeld along with Deary’s gymnastic supply. A reception for alumni and friends of Yale Gymnastics will be held in Payne Whitney Gymnasium after the meet.

In the early 1970s, Tonry transformed the Yale Gymnastics Club into a varsity men’s team that competed until 1980 and won three Ivy League championships. He was also Yale’s associate athletic director of physical education and directed the first sports camp for Yale. Tonry’s wife, Barbara, has been the head coach of the Yale women’s gymnastics team since its inception, capturing 14 Ivy titles since 1973.

“Yale gymnastics would not be what it is today without the Tonrys,” says Morgan Traina ’15, current captain of the women’s team. “Coach Barb always pushes us to be our very best, while also inspiring us with her elaborate wisdom that has come from years of involvement in the sport. Don used to visit our practices, and his smiling face in the gym and pure passion for the sport motivated all of us to be the best team that we can be.”

Esther de Lory ‘77 notes, “The Tonry’s have always had a united and singular vision to make gymnastics an important and lasting athletic institution at Yale. To them, gymnastics was more than just a casual intramural activity — it was a way to develop a whole person. Through discipline, practice, and competition, we learned about perseverance, overcoming obstacles, reaching for the next level, teamwork, trust, and building lifelong friendships.”

While men’s gymnastics lost its status as a varsity sport in the late 1970s, Tonry continued teaching his coed tumbling class, then the only opportunity for male Yale students to learn gymnastics, despite being in a wheelchair in his later years. Thanks to the efforts of Daniel Aeschliman of Yale Athletics and Philipp Arndt ’16, who met in Tonry’s tumbling class, Yale Club Gymnastics was officially recognized by Yale as a coed club sport in October 2013. Since then, the team has worked out twice a week at New Era Gymnastics in Hamden and started competing in late 2014.

Generations of Yale student athletes remember Tonry as a patient instructor who devoted his time and energy to mentor everyone who was willing to put in the work — regardless of talent or prior experience.

According to David Martin ’65, “[H]aving Don running down the mat beside you as your spotter was like having a concert pianist sitting beside you while you practice your scales.”

Michael Schmertzler ’74, now a professor at the Yale School of Management, said of the Tonrys: “They each lead relative neophytes to serious levels of competitive achievement and the broader community to better health. Barbara still is, and Don was, a skilled, tireless, inspiring, and determined coach and a caring, genuine, grounded and individually attentive mentor.”

This article was written by Philipp Arndt ’16, publicity assistant for Yale Gymnastics and co-founder and president of Yale Club Gymnastics.

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