Charles Pond photo
Listen to this article

In the history of Big Ten men’s gymnastics, no team has been more dominant than coach Charlie Pond’s Illini were from 1950 to 1960. Illinois’ 11 consecutive titles are nearly double more than the next longest streak and Ponds was clearly the reason for the program’s success.

Born 106 years ago on Sunday — Nov. 28, 1915 — Pond was a native of Dallas and a star athlete at Woodrow Wilson High School. He became an all-around performer at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, participating not only in gymnastics, but also in football and as a cheerleader.

Three years after graduating from Hardin-Simmons in 1939 and at the height of World War II, Pond enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps. In 1943, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, serving with the First Marine Parachute Regiment in the South Pacific. Pond saw action in the British Solomon Islands Possessions on the islands of Guadalcanal, Vella la Vella and Bougainville. In 1945, he received his honorable discharge with the rank of Major.

Illinois athletic director Doug Mills promoted Pond to replace Hartley Price as Illini head coach in 1948. In his first season, Illinois finished just one point shy of the Big Ten title, finishing the championship meet with 51 points to Minnesota’s 52. After that — for the next 11 years — Pond’s Illini dominated the league, winning by margins that ranged from nine points (twice) to as many as 92 points in 1956. Also in 1956, Pond was an associate men’s coach and assistant women’s coach for the U.S. Olympic team.

Only two Big Ten men’s gymnastics coaches — Chicago’s D.L. Hoffer and Michigan’s Newt Loken — won more team titles in that sport than Pond’s 11 championships. His athletes during that successful span included conference all-around champs Frank Dolan, Bob Sullivan, Don Tonry, Abe Grossfeld and Ray Hadley.

Pond’s development of the Pond Twisting Belt, a piece of equipment that harnesses gymnasts and safely teaches them aerial twists and flips, is still utilized in gyms worldwide.

Following his retirement in 1973 after 25 years as the Illini coach, Pond became active in the sport of freestyle snow skiing, while also staying involved with gymnastics. He was appointed as the U.S. National Freestyle Snow Skiing Coach for the National Freestyle Team in 1976 and served two seasons as executive director of the U.S. Freestyle Skiing Federation.

In 1996, Pond was elected vice president of the World Acrobatics Society.

Pond was inducted into both the U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame (1966) and the University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame (2018).

In his later years, he and his wife (Pamela) resided in Dewey, Ariz. Pond, who passed in 2003 at the age of 88, was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery in Phoenix.

Illini Birthdays

Sunday: Dan Cutter, football (43)

Monday: Akeem Spence, football (30)

Tuesday: Charlton Ehizuelen, track & field (68)

Wednesday: Jacqueline Quade, volleyball (24)

Thursday: Michael Martin, football (28)

Friday: DD Snyder, football (19)

Saturday: Cory Bradford, basketball (43)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter @IlliniLegends and @Spartifacts2021. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.

Trending Videos