Legendary Coach Gene Wettstone Passes Away at 100
The Nittany Lion mascot is now an iconic tradition at Penn State football games. But without the efforts of men’s gymnastics head coach Gene Wettstone, the mascot may have been forgotten. In 1939, he believed Penn State athletics “needed a lift,” so he wore the suit that hadn’t been worn in 12 years. He then passed the suit on to a student, laying the foundation of a beloved tradition at the university.
Although there’s no statue of this Penn State legendary coach on campus to signify his greatness, he does have a sculpture recognizing his achievements. The sculpture, which honors the longtime coach, has been on permanent display in the Penn State All-Sports Museum for nearly a decade.
As first reported by the Centre Daily Times, coach Wettstone died Tuesday at Mount Nittany Medical Center. He was 100.
Wettstone graduated from the University of Iowa in 1937 after having won Big Ten titles in pommel horse, horizontal bar, and all-around his senior season. His decision to come to Penn State was simple.
“I applied to Penn State College primarily because of its location,” Wettstone said in a 2010 article in The Daily Collegian. “I loved the streams and the mountains and so forth, being able to hitchhike through that country so many times.”
When he came to Penn State in 1939, meets resembled a student circus, including high wire acts, juggling, unicycles and trapeze performances. Wettstone made it his goal to get the university involved in the real sport of gymnastics.
He led Penn State until 1976, earning more than 200 victories and twelve undefeated seasons. Of Penn State gymnastics’ record 12 national championship, Wettstone coached nine of them.
Wettstone’s success was not limited to coaching at the collegiate level. He coached the U.S. Olympic team in 1948 and 1956 and was a manager for the 1976 team.
After winning another national championship for Penn State in his final season, Wettstone was succeeded by Karl Schier.
Even after retiring from a career with the Nittany Lions that spanned five decades, coach Wettstone remained interested in the success of the men’s gymnastics team. He resided in State College and was commonly seen watching meets at Rec Hall.
According to the 2010 Collegian article, Wettstone is reported to have gone to every home meet, except the meet against William & Mary because of a fainting spell the previous week. He always presented the Gene Wettstone Award, established in 1977, to the meet’s most outstanding gymnast.
Koch Funeral Home on South Atherton Street is preparing funeral arrangements.
Onward State would like to extend its deepest sympathies to his friends and family for their loss. He truly was a Penn State legend.