Back Flip Through Time: Help Preserve Gymkana History
In 1946, the University of Maryland experienced a sudden influx of students, with many veterans returning home from World War II. One of those veterans, David A. Field, arrived at the University as a physical education instructor. There he founded the University of Maryland Gymkana Troupe with the goals of providing healthful recreational activities to students, promoting the sport of gymnastics, providing entertainment for their audiences and acting as “Ambassadors of Goodwill” for all those that they encountered. Since the first performance in Ritchie Coliseum on January 10, 1947, for the halftime of the Maryland-George Washington basketball game, Gymkana has used gymnastics to promote its message and inspire others. The season culminated, as it has every year since, with the 1st annual Home Show on April 23, 1947.
70 years later, the Gymkana Troupe is still alive and strong, making it one of the oldest student clubs on Maryland’s campus. All University students are welcome to become members – no experience required (a stipulation that has been a cornerstone of the program since its beginnings). Now averaging 70 members per season, Gymkana’s message has evolved as well. Today students on the team are the “Ambassadors of Healthy Living” promoting drug, tobacco, and alcohol free living to their audiences, the University population and the thousands of children that participate in Gymkana’s annual summer camp and weekly Saturday gymnastics classes. A family away from home to many of its members, Gymkana is more than just a student group or gymnastics team. It is an opportunity for the mentorship and the development of young adults who always know that they have a place at the University of Maryland to call “home.”
Existing for almost three-quarters of a century has not been easy. Since it’s founding, Gymkana has been a self-funded and self-supported non-profit in an ever-changing University landscape. Practice space, costumes, equipment and supplies were hard to come by and only earned through hard work and dedication. In moments when it seemed that there was no future for the program, its coaches, alumni and members stood up and fought to save it.
Having spent years looking forward to ensure its survival, Gymkana has never had the funds available to effectively archive and preserve its own history. The Launch UMD program offers the chance to remedy this by funding the processing of the Troupe’s massive archive collection, digitizing its content, and sharing it with the World.
Working with the University Archives, the funds raised through Launch UMD will go to beginning the process of cataloging and digitizing this collection of documents, memorabilia, videos, and roughly 15,000 photographs and 35mm slides. Once completed, this will allow for the creation of an online archive that will make Gymkana’s historical content accessible to everyone. Preserving Gymkana’s historical foundation will allow it to continue to shape and inspire future members and future audiences.
For the thousands of alumni of the 70-year-old program, the University of Maryland community, and generations of families and friends, this extensive and accessible historical content would be a truly cherished gift.
Gifts in support of the University of Maryland are accepted and managed by the University of Maryland College Park Foundation, Inc., an affiliated 501(c)(3) organization authorized by the Board of Regents. Contributions to the University of Maryland are tax deductible as allowed by law. Please see your tax advisor for details.