May 17, 2013
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The accomplishments of a coach can be measured by trophies and banners displayed in glass cases around the facilities they used to roam. The true impact is found in the former student-athletes they helped mold and develop along the way.
That was never more evident than this past weekend, when former University of Iowa men’s gymnasts and their families gathered in Iowa City to honor former Hawkeye head coach Dick Holzaepfel and reflect on his legacy.
“I did not realize that there would be this big of a turn out,” said Jac Holzaepfel, Dick’s oldest son. “Everybody I have spoken to really wanted to be here; people from around the world and across the street. I have not seen some of these people for about 50 years; many like family that helped bring me up. It has been quite a weekend.”
Holzaepfel, who passed away in December at the age of 94, served as Iowa’s men’s gymnastics coach from 1950-66 and again from 1971-80. Under his guidance, Iowa won the 1972 and 1974 Big Ten titles and made its first ever appearance in the NCAA Championships. The Hawkeyes finished fourth three times and fifth twice at the NCAAs.
“He was a great coach. He coached a lot of champions. He had an enormous impact on his gymnasts and the lives of their families. Iowa was lucky to have a coach like Dick Holzaepfel. We have had a lot of great coaches at Iowa in a variety of different sports, and Dick is one of the greats.”
— 1953 Big Ten trampoline champion Bill Sorenson
Holzaepfel’s career dual record at Iowa was 179-87-2, including a 98-57 Big Ten record. His Hawkeye teams placed second in the Big Ten six times.
Holzaepfel led Hawkeye gymnastics teams to four (1958, 1960, 1964, 1972) undefeated seasons, and Iowa advanced to the NCAA championships in 17-of-27 seasons. During his tenure, Holzaepfel — inducted into the UI Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 1997 — produced five NCAA individual event national champions, 36 individual Big Ten champions and 38 All-Americans.
For those in attendance, it was much more than medals and honors. It was a chance to unite and honor a man who had left a lasting impact on their lives.
“I met Dick 64 years ago, when I was a freshman at Iowa,” said Bill Sorenson, the 1953 Big Ten champion on trampoline. “I had gone out for swimming, and he came down and got me out of the pool and asked if I had ever seen a trampoline. From that moment on, it changed my life forever.
“Dick was a great guy and a great person. He and his wife Betty adopted and made all of us gymnasts and our wives, if we were married, part of the family. It was a wonderful experience. He also had a great dry sense of humor, which rubbed off on all of us.”
Neil Schmitt, a two-time Big Ten champion on high bars, and a 1967 All-American who went on to coach with Holzaepfel for 10 years, spearheaded the reunion.
“It was something I thought would be fun right from the beginning, and it turned out to be much more fun than I had ever imagined,” said Schmitt. “We got so many people, which showed phenomenal support of the idea that Dick touched so many lives in a really positive way. The reason so many people were here is because they think so highly of him and took a huge lead from him on how they pursued their lives, and lived much like he did.”
“He was a great coach,” said Sorenson. “He coached a lot of champions. He had an enormous impact on his gymnasts and the lives of their families. Iowa was lucky to have a coach like Dick Holzaepfel. We have had a lot of great coaches at Iowa in a variety of different sports, and Dick is one of the greats.”
The UI men’s gymnastics team presents the Dick Holzaepfel Award to its Most Valuable Gymnast each year.