The First YMCA Gymnastics Championships (1938-1941)

First Championships (1938)

The YMCA began holding National Gymnastics Championships in 1938.  Detroit, Michigan hosted the first one. National Championships for squash and badminton were held at the same time.  Even though women could be members of the YMCA, the championships were only for men. 

Competitors took part in:

  • A team competition.
  • Individual all-around.
  • Horizontal Bars.
  • Side Horse.
  • Parallel Bars.

Second Championships (1939)

Fort Wayne, Illinois hosted the second Championships in 1939.  Five events counted for all-around:

  • Side horse.
  • Horizontal bar.
  • Parallel bars.
  • Rings (stationary).
  • Tumbling.

Third Championships (1940)

After a lot of discussion, the YMCA decided to follow AAU rules.  They had to decide:

  • What individual events to have.
  • What events counted for the all-around.
  • What events were included in the team score.
  • How many scores were included in the team score.
  • How the equipment would be set up.
Fourth Championships (1941)

These were the last Championships for a long time.  During World War II gymnastics became a way to train soldiers.

How far did people travel in these early days?

In 1940 when the Championships were held in New Jersey, competitors traveled from:

  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Washington DC
  • Indiana
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
Competitors from these states didn’t make it to New Jersey, but did compete in 1939 in Indiana:

  • Missouri
  • Wisconsin
  •  Illinois

Vincent D'Autorio

The most successful YMCA gymnast from that time was Vincent D’Autorio from the Newark NJ YMCA.  He won the YMCA championships in 1940 and 1941.  He would likely have been on the 1940 and 1944 Olympic teams if the Olympics hadn’t been cancelled for WWII.

He was a member of the 1948 and 1952 teams.  He was 36 years old in 1952 when he competed in the Olympics, and is likely the oldest American to qualify for a U.S. Olympic team.

How much did it cost to run the meet in 1940?

  • The entire meet cost $319.59.
  • They earned $362.78. 

Was there a rivalry between gymnasts and basketball players during this time?  You decide?

“Persons … who attended last Saturday’s second annual National Gymnastic Meet at the Fort Wayne YMCA, cannot have failed to be impressed with the poise and co-ordination-control of body displayed by the approximately 35 participants in this meet – young men who have been advantaged by all-around physical education, as opposed to lopsided; over-specialized training in one sport.

Particularly impressive was the splendid development of the participants’ arms, chest, back, and abdominal muscles.  Many observers of these young men’s performance must have been ?red with the wish that some of our hollow-chested, weak-shouldered, heavy-legged basket-ball players could spend their time between net lessons learning the fine gymnastic arts and building some of the courage and character required for such a complete rounding-out of the human form.”
Unknown, Fort Wayne, Indiana – 4-4-1939.

What was the difference between the long horse and side horse?

We now call the side horse the pommel horse.  Routines back in the 1930s were much like they are today.  Competitors held onto pommels, and sung their legs around and over the horse.

The long horse is the vault.  It was a special event in 1940 championships, along with rope climb.  In 1940 there were two optional exercises on the long horse - one from the croup, and one from the neck.  What does that mean?  Competitors vaulted over the horse twice.  Their hands were on different ends of the vault each time.

For many years the same piece of equipment was used for both events.  The pommels were taken off the vault and the holes filled in so gymnasts didn’t hurt their fingers.  Then the vault was turned around and men vaulted over it lengthwise. 

What happened if you fell off apparatus during a routine?

Back in those days you were finished with your event if you fell off the apparatus.  There was no getting back on and continuing.  Only on the flying rings or swinging rings were competitors allowed to step once to get enough speed for their dismount.  If you scraped your toes or heels on the floor you could continue, and be marked down for bad form.