July 20, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Former Michigan State men's gymnastics coach George Szypula died on Saturday, July 20 in East Lansing. He was 92. Szypula was inducted in the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame in Sept. 2012.
Szypula was a stalwart in the Greater Lansing gymnastics community, as his impact on the sport was undeniable. Beginning in 1947 when he was hired at MSU and concluding with his time in East Lansing, he left behind a tremendous legacy that affected the lives of many in the area.
The first coach in Michigan State men's gymnastics history, Szypula led the Spartans into the national spotlight during his 41-year reign (1947-88). An owner of 252 career meet victories, Szypula led the Spartans to an NCAA Championship in 1958 and a Big Ten title in 1968, in addition to 18 individual NCAA and 48 individual conference champions.
Following a standout gymnastics career of his own and his service time in World War II, Szypula was named head coach of the new men's gymnastics program at Michigan State in 1947.
It didn't take him long to propel the Spartans into significance. In his second season as coach in 1949, MSU finished sixth at the NCAA Championships, led by Mel Stout winning the first NCAA individual title (parallel bars) in school history. Michigan State would go on to place among the top eight nationally on 15 occasions, including nine top five showings. The peak of Szypula's coaching career came in 1958 when Michigan State shared the NCAA title.
In 1951, MSU's first year in the Big Ten, the Spartans finished second at the conference meet, led by Stout winning the all-around, floor exercise, still rings, parallel bars and horizontal bars. It was the first of 17 top-3 team finishes which Syzpula coached at the Big Ten Championships. The Spartans won the Big Ten Championship in 1968, the only title in program history.
Two of his athletes won the Nissan Award, issued to the top collegiate senior gymnast in the country. Jim Curzi won the first-ever Nissan Award in 1966 and Dave Thor took home the honor in 1968, while three other Spartans were finalists for the honor. Szypula continued to coach Thor at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, where he was the top American finisher.
Syzpula received numerous accolades throughout his career, including being named NCAA Coach of the Year in 1966 and the NCAA Mideast Region Coach of the Year in 1987, while at MSU. He had also been inducted into the U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame, the Temple University Hall of Fame, the East Lansing High School Hall of Fame and the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame. He was also honored as a torchbearer for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games, carrying the flame on its tour through Michigan in January 2002.
Upon his retirement from MSU, Szypula spent 16 seasons as the boys' gymnastics coach at East Lansing High School.
Born on June 24, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pa., Szypula graduated from Temple University in 1943, where he was the 1942 NCAA Men's Tumbling Champion and a four-time AAU National Tumbling Champion (1940-43).
Funeral arrangements are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 3 at 10 a.m. at University Lutheran Church in East Lansing.