QUARTER CENTURY OF SUCCESS
including year by year record
In collegiate gymnastics, no program boasts more excellence, consistency and rich tradition over a span of a quarter century than the University of Georgia. The woman behind the success is the coach who just completed her 26th and final year – Suzanne Yoculan.
No other program in the country has been able to maintain the level of success in the past 26 years that Yoculan produced during her tenure in Athens. She guided Georgia to an NCAA-best 10 national championships (including the last five in a row), 16 Southeastern Conference titles and 21 NCAA Regional crowns. Yoculan’s teams placed in the nation’s top three in 21 of the last 22 years.
Yoculan’s work was recognized by her peers as she was chosen as the National Coach of the Year five times (1987, '93, '98, 2006, '08) and the SEC Coach of the Year eight times. (1986, '87, '99, 2001, '02, 04, '08, '09). She ended her career with an overall record of 836-117-7.
Yoculan produced 37 NCAA individual champions, including three-time all-around winner Courtney Kupets, and 58 Gym Dogs with 306 All-America honors since 1984.
The Gym Dogs won five consecutive NCAA titles from 2005 through 2009, none of which was captured in the same manner. The 2005 team struggled all throughout the regular season and barely snuck into nationals as the 12th team in the field. The 2006 squad dominated all year long, posting a perfect 36-0 record en route to its title. The 2007 season was a roller-coaster year, with several ups and downs and injuries throughout. Likewise, the 2008 squad overcame injuries to win its title in front of the Stegeman Coliseum faithful. The 2009 team was on a mission to send its venerable coach out on top and effectively dealt with the emotions of that undertaking. The results of these five years were all the same – NCAA Champions.
A constant throughout was a coach who knows what it takes, someone with the experience and charisma to take a team to the top level and keep it there. That is what Yoculan has provided the Georgia gymnastics program with for the past 26 years.
“It says a lot about our program that we have been able to maintain a certain level of excellence for a period spanning three different decades,” Yoculan said. “We have won NCAA titles in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, and no other program has consistently enjoyed the success we have year in and year out.”
In 19 of her previous 26 years as head coach at Georgia, Yoculan led her team to either an SEC title, an NCAA title or both. That means she won a championship in more than 70 percent of her tenure, not to mention finish at least third in the conference, the nation or both all 26 years. Not many coaches in gymnastics or any sport can boast numbers like that.
When she first took over in 1984, the team had yet to make an appearance at the NCAA Championship. Yoculan led the Gym Dogs to their first appearance that year, finishing at a modest ninth place. But more importantly they had the championship experience under their belts.
By Yoculan’s fourth year in 1987, the team traveled to Salt Lake City poised and ready to take home the program’s first NCAA title. And they did so behind several key beam and floor performances to close out the meet. Just two years later, the Gym Dogs grabbed their second title in front of a home crowd in Athens, holding off top-seeded UCLA by a margin of .05.
Yoculan led the Gym Dogs to three titles in the 1990s, the first of which came in 1993 in Corvallis, Ore. Georgia posted the first 198.000 in nationals action to leave all of its opponents behind. The other two came in the final years of the decade, back-to-back crowns in 1998 and 1999. The Gym Dogs came up just short of three straight in 2000, but made up for that with a quintet of titles from 2005-2009.
Chemistry and Communication
The key to her teams’ successes, according to Yoculan, has been in developing the proper chemistry where all individuals understand and embrace their roles and then having proper communication among those involved.
“One of the most important parts of our success has been keeping the lines of communication open,” Yoculan said. “If everyone has an understanding of their role on the team, they are going to be a lot more accepting of it and buy into what we are trying to accomplish. That also makes for a better team chemistry, which has been instrumental to our five straight NCAA titles.”
Through the perfect balance of chemistry and communication, Yoculan has led her share of top-notch gymnasts through the program. In all, she has produced a total of 58 All-Americans 306 times. In addition, Georgia gymnasts have claimed 37 individual NCAA titles. There has been at least one Gym Dog standing atop the podium as an individual event winner in 14 of the last 19 years.
The Gym Dogs have enjoyed as much success academically as athletically of late as well. In 2009, seven Gym Dogs earned a place on the SEC Academic Honor Roll and two were chosen for the Academic All-America Team.
Yoculan claims the academic achievement is a direct result of proper communication with the team about how important academic excellence is coupled with athletic excellence.
“You can see a direct relation to the way teams perform in the gym and in the classroom,” Yoculan said. “These girls understand how important academics are, and therefore set out to achieve in that area of their lives as well.”
Outside Exposure and Community Involvement
In addition to competitive success, Yoculan has created a culture of mass exposure for the program. Despite the humble beginnings, she since has brought attention to the Georgia gymnastics program which is virtually unparalleled anywhere else in the country. It took more than good teams to increase average attendance at Georgia gymnastics meets from less than 200 in 1983 to an average of nearly 10,000 fans per meet in 2008.
Yoculan communicates about her program in almost every way imaginable. She is a dynamic speaker, traveling throughout the country to convey her experiences in eating disorders among female athletes, fitness, sports promotion, personal motivation and leadership. Most of all, she is asked to speak about developing team chemistry and its importance in accomplishing success.
Growth in interest in Georgia gymnastics also is reflected in the number of meets televised by national, regional and statewide cable. Georgia meets have been televised by ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports South Net, Comcast Sports Southeast and Atlanta’s ABC affiliate, WSB-TV. The Gym Dogs receive significant amount of local media coverage as well.
Yoculan also does a weekly TV show during the season, which discusses past meets and gives news and insights on several facets of Georgia gymnastics. “The Suzanne Yoculan Gym Dogs Show” is broadcast nationally on CSTV and throughout the Southeast on CSS and Fox Sports Net. She also released her first book on collegiate gymnastics titled “Perfect 10,” which chronicles the history of Georgia gymnastics and college gymnastics across the nation. Under Yoculan’s watch, four DVDs were produced on the 2005-2008 national titles, the only team to ever do so.
Yoculan also has fostered growth and ever-increasing support of the Ten-0 Club, the Georgia gymnastics booster club, which is the largest in the nation with more than 800 members. Before the 1996 season, she initiated the establishment of the first renewable season ticket program in the nation for a women’s collegiate team. More than 5,000 season tickets are sold each year now. As a step toward Georgia gymnastics’ financial self-sufficiency, season ticket holders contribute to a scholarship endowment fund in order to retain the same seat location every year. Currently all 12 scholarships are endowed, three of which have come directly from the fans.
An active member of the Athens community, Yoculan was the honorary chair for the Northeast Georgia’s United Way 1998-99 campaign. In 2003 and 2005, Yoculan and the Gym Dogs teamed up with the Athens Area Habitat for Humanity to help in the construction of an all-women’s project.
After former Gym Dog Talya Vexler was diagnosed with breast cancer, the team joined Athens Regional Medical Center to raise awareness for breast cancer and the new ARMC Breast Health Center. Yoculan led the drive that raised $100,000 for the new center, which was dedicated in February of 2005. The last four years, Georgia has had a “Pink Out” meet to increase exposure of breast cancer and to continue support ARMC by raising money through auction items like a pink scooter.
For the past two years, Yoculan and the Gym Dogs have teamed up with Special Olympics to teach gymnastics to special-needs children once a week. In November of 2001, Yoculan was roasted for charity, an event that raised more than $25,000 for three worthwhile causes. She won the Atlanta Athletic Club’s 2008 W.R. McGriff Award, which honors recipients who exemplify excellence in sports while demonstrating characteristics of an upstanding citizen and role model. Yoculan also was inducted into the prestigious Blue Key National Honor Society in 2008.
Twenty-six years, 10 NCAA Championships, 16 SEC Championships, 37 individual titles, 58 All-Americans and a plethora of rabid gymnastics fans later, it’s clear Yoculan and the Gym Dogs have more than accomplished the lofty goals which she set for her program in 1984.
Yoculan methodically molded the Gym Dogs into the premier team in the country by adapting to the needs of each new team. As a season unfolds, so do Yoculan’s plans. She leads according to the pulse of the specific team, always emphasizing the process.
“In order to compete at the highest level, our team must have a chemistry and confidence which we build through communication,” she said.
Before arriving in Athens to accept her first collegiate coaching position, Yoculan was the owner of a private gymnastics school in Pennsylvania, Gemini Gymnastics, which instructed beginners through national-level competitors. She was also the summer camp director for the prestigious Woodward Gymnastics Camp. As a gymnast, Yoculan, who won the New Jersey State AAU all-around title while competing for East Brunswick High School, was a four-time state champion and was recruited for the Pennsylvania State University gymnastics team. She graduated from Penn State in 1975 with a B.S. in therapeutic recreation with a dance emphasis.
Yoculan has two children. Adam, 30, is a health care consultant for SG2 in Chicago and Ali, 22, graduated from the University of Georgia in August 2008 in International Affairs. Yoculan’s parents, Bill and Doris Allen, are retired and live in Athens. Doris was recognized as the 2002 Gym Dog Fan of the Year.