If you were to name the most dominant Big Ten programs of all time, you could easily come up with quite a few contenders. Ohio State Football, Minnesota Hockey, Penn State Volleyball, Nebraska Women’s Bowling, Iowa Wrestling, Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse, and so on and so forth. The arguments would be difficult to make because year to year, how do you measure dominance? How do you decide who was the best at their specific sport? How can you compare it?
Generally speaking, you can’t. There are just too many variables, and to be perfectly honest, dominance is usually matched by another team at some point or another. Even trying to pick a “Best of” list seems like a fool’s errand. There is just no way any single team can be named “Most dominant” program, or at least that’s what I believed.
This really started quite innocuously. I intended to research the futility of many Big Ten programs in pursuit of NCAA Championships - we’re going to get back to that in the weeks to come - but a bunch of links to links led me to a discovery that was really quite amazing. The most dominant program of all time is a team that won every National Championship the NCAA sponsored in its sport: The Michigan Wolverines Trampoline team.
As such, this is a little story about the rise - and quite literal demise - of the best Trampoline program in the history of the NCAA, and a reminder of how crazy the rabbit hole can be.
The Trampoline Championships: Because it wasn’t safe to be in gymnastics
Before 1969, the Midwest seemed to dominate Men’s Gymnastics. Southern Illinois, Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, and Illinois routinely won - or came in as runner up - the NCAA championship. However, in an article written in the Michigan Daily, March 28, 1969, it appears that some changes were afoot. A rules change pulled Trampoline out of the NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championship for “safety” and suddenly dominant teams in both would have to get points in each separately. Men’s Trampoline would be its own standalone sport.
Now, for a bit of context, Michigan had a little bit of a right to be annoyed at the sudden rules change. By effectively pulling out an event that Michigan excelled at, the Wolverine’s team score was potentially drastically reduced. The Wolverines would end up winning the 1970 NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championship anyways, but as you can see by that article, there was some sour grapes. The Big Ten was getting screwed by the coasts, and this injustice would not be taken lightly.
Despite the annoyance with the situation, two years of Men’s Trampoline Championships would commence, starting in 1969. Led by George Huntzicker, a phenom even in high school apparently, the Wolverines won a competition that I would love to tell you about, but for the life of me, I cannot find any information on the meet. It happened. There was a trophy. There is not information I could find. I did read that the Wolverines defended its title successfully in 1970 by beating the University of New Mexico.
The NCAA stopped sponsoring trampoline the year after.
Now, it is worth noting that there are many stories about other major players in this game. Perhaps you want to read more about Dr. Newt Loken, arguably the architect of Trampoline, a Minnesota Grad, the John Wooden of Men’s Trampoline, and the coach of Michigan’s greatest run of gymnastics, cheerleading, and yes, trampoline. Or, maybe you want to see the 1970 World Championship Rules of Trampoline. And maybe then, you want to read about all of Michigan’s National Championships.
That’s all sort of besides the point. No, today is a reminder that in 1969 and 1970, the NCAA sponsored Trampoline. What a beautiful, strange occurrence, and by default, the most dominant performance by a Big Ten Program ever.