Gymnastics coach reflects on decades of tradition

Walter Dodge came to Syracuse University in 1956 on a gymnastics and track scholarship, and has remained with the school’s gymnastics program ever since.

Now, the former athlete volunteers at the gym every week to help students work on their back handsprings or complicated vaults. The 79 year old said at this point, gymnastics is just a habit.

“It’s just something I do. I did it for so long and it was just part of my life,” Dodge said. “I never think about it. It’s something I do.”

Photo: Provided by Walter Dodge
Recipient of the National Coach of the Year award in 1984, Walter Dodge has been coaching gymnastics for almost seven decades.

Though now gymnastics is a part of his daily life, Dodge originally didn’t intend to be a gymnast.

“I wanted to be a pole vaulter,” Dodge said. “All the pole vaulters were gymnasts.

Additionally, when beginning at SU he originally wanted to be a veterinarian, and eventually decided to be a teacher. And even after he graduated and began teaching at a local school, Dodge would come to the gym for three hours every day to train and help coach gymnastics.

When he first began in the 1950s, he said the gymnastics program was really a team effort, until he ultimately became the primary coach of the team and now the club.

“When I came here, we all kind of coached each other. I stayed on because I was getting a masters so I took over the role more of doing the teaching and doing the coaching,” Dodge said. “That’s how it got started and I just kept at it. And going and going and going. Forever.” 

His coaching style has stayed constant since he started in the 1960s, but his students say they think it’s effective, yet still enjoyable.

“Walt’s a very good teacher and he’ll keep pestering you and tells you you’re not doing it right, but he’ll still stay there and help out,” said Chris Campbell, a student in Dodge’s gymnastics class. “It’s probably the funnest experience I’ve had since being in Syracuse.”

Dodge said that it’s worth the time and energy to see the students he coaches succeed and become better gymnasts.

“My biggest accomplishment is all the young guys I helped to get better not only as a gymnast, but as a person,” Dodge said. “That was really a reward for me.”

After over 60 years of gymnastics, he cannot always demonstrate how to do a diving cartwheel or a vault on the horse. But, he will still do what he can, which includes a full flip off the high bar. Dodge has been nationally recognized over the past six decades with various awards, his most accomplished title being National Coach of the Year in 1984.

“He’s very verbal about what he wants done and if you’re too scared to do it or just not quite there, he’ll push you,” said Vance Holley, senior at Syracuse University and member of the gymnastics club. “He’s definitely a very good coach. He knows how to work with a lot of students.”

Throughout the years, gymnastics has been just a part of Dodge’s life, without a big end goal in mind.

“I’ve never thought about leaving a legacy," Dodge said. "I guess the legacy is all those people I coached all those years hopefully thinking fond of the time that they were here and I trained them.”


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