1950s - Championships Resume

After WWII there was interest in starting the championships again.

Abie Grossfeld remembers Roy Moore, the FIG Vice President, the Chairman of the Olympic and AAU National Committees, talking to Bill Buffa about resuming the YMCA National Gymnastics Championships .

In 1953, Bill Buffa met with Moore and Harold Friermood, National YMCA Secretary of Health and Physical Education and formed the National YMCA Gymnastics Committee.  With the help of John Van Aalten and Serge Souto in 1954, both from the West Side Y in New York, the first National Championships in more than a decade took place.

Bill Buffa sent out a survey in 1953 to all YMCAs to see what the interest was in attending National Championships.  A team from San Pedro, California responded with a simple question:

“How would we get there?”

These first few championships were held in YMCAs in New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio to be near YMCAs with gymnastics teams.  This did make travel easier.  1954 and 1955 Champion Abie Grossfeld took the subway to his first Championships.  In 1955 he carpooled with teammates. 

This didn’t stop other teams from bidding.  YMCAs from Atlanta, Georgia and St. Petersburg, Florida put in bids to host the championships.  But during these early years, the Gymnastics Committee decided to keep the championships in the northeastern United States.

The West Side YMCA

  The West Side YMCA in New York was the top YMCA team during the late 1950s, winning 6 National Championships in 7 years.  The coach during these years was John Van Aalten.  John had made the Dutch Olympic team in 1936 and 1940.  In 1936 the Dutch team didn’t send a team to the Berlin Olympics for political reasons, and in 1940 the games were cancelled for World War II, so he never got to go.  By 1948 he had moved with his family to New York.  Bill Buffa realized he’d be a great coach, and talked him into coaching at the West Side YMCA.  He coached there for 30 years. 

Bill Buffa

Would there be YMCA Nationals without Bill Buffa?

Bill Buffa started as a student at the West Side YMCA in 1935, when he was 15.  He became a volunteer boy’s gymnastic coach in 1940.  He won AAU National Titles for the swinging rings in 1943 and 1948 while competing for the YMCA.  In 1953 he became the chairman of the National YMCA Gymnastics Committee.  This was a position he held until 1983, when he retired.

He not only re-started the National Championships after World War II and a lack of interest, he nurtured them for 30 years as a dedicated volunteer.  It’s doubtful the YMCA would still be holding National Championships for Gymnastics if it wasn’t for Bill Buffa.

Abie Grossfeld

Abie Grossfeld
Abie Grossfeld was one of John Van Aalten’s gymnasts.  Abie trained at the West Side Y until he went to the University of Illinois.  His start in gymnastics was unintentional:

“I joined the West Side Y to practice swimming since I was on my high school team and they didn’t have a swimming pool. There was a water shortage in New York City and the pool was closed, so I wandered in the gymnastics gym, saw gymnastics and was fascinated, and joined the beginning class. We had three good coaches there: Serge Souto, Bill Buffa and the Head Coach John Van Aalten.”

Abie went on to be a very successful gymnast and coach after his time at the YMCA.  He was a member of two Olympic teams, 1956 and 1960, coached in several Olympics, including the 1984 gold medal winning team.  He also coached Peter Kormann to America’s first Olympic gymnastics individual medal since 1932.

After Abie left the YMCA, teammate John Pesha led this championship team, winning 5 individual all around titles.