Ben Corr isn’t known for his big bear hugs or funny accent. But, the Rohnert Park gymnastics’ new head coach has the ability to relate to and motivate young athletes to achieve success in a different way.
“I love gymnastics,” said Corr, who arrived in Rohnert Park in May. “It’s the only thing I do.”
Corr competed at the University of California at Berkeley from 1976-79 and qualified to the N.C.A.A. Championships in 1976 as a freshman. Under legendary coach Mas Watanabe, Corr and his teammates (including several former Olympians) won 11 consecutive Pac-8 championships.
He has coached at a number of different clubs over the past 12 years, including a recent six-year stint as head coach at Golden Bear Gymnastics in Berkeley. His Level IX team in Berkeley placed second in the state two consecutive years (1990-91) while the Level VI team won the state championship in 1991.
Corr is responsible for two-time Level IX State, Regional and National champion Jene Elzie, who went on to receive a full-ride scholarship to Stanford University and recently placed 13th overall at the NCAA Championships. Elzie’s success was a factor in Corr’s receiving the Northern California Coach of the Year Award in 1991.
In the past, Corr has had to rebuild his teams from the ground up. But he won’t have to start from scratch in Rohnert Park, where he inherits a young but successful program, which includes a Level VII Optional team that swept the State championships in 1992. His only goal is to have all of his athletes compete at the highest level they can and do well.
Club owner Mike Steffen has given Corr complete control of the team and shares Corr’s teaching philosophy.
“He puts the kids first,” said Corr of Steffen. “He’s not out to compete with other clubs for gymnasts, he just wants to produce a good girls team.”
Many top-level gymnasts move away from home to train and take correspondence courses instead of attending regular classes. Corr disagrees with this philosophy, and believes there must be a balance between family and friends, education and gymnastics.
“I’ll do anything to win, up to a point,” said Corr. “They can succeed in doing all three. We don’t have to turn them into social and mental cripples.”
Gymnastics is unusual in that its athletes have a limited amount of time to reach their potential-most gymnasts peak in their early to mid-teens-and must train three to five years, year-round, to be ready for the simplest level of competition.
“You or I could pick up a football or basketball, read a rule book and go out and play a game,” said Corr. “Gymnastics is very carefully controlled. Things have to be taught.”
Corr’s secret to success in such a difficult and demanding sport is simple.
“If they’re working out four hours a day, we work out five,” he said. “The only guarantee is to recruit the best talent, then work a little longer and a little harder. Eventually we’re going to succeed.”
Contrary to the opinion of several high-level coaches, workouts don’t have to be solemn, torturous occasions. Corr’s athletes are able to have fun and be kids while they’re in the gym.
“The kids spend so much time here, they have to laugh,” he said. “As long as they realize what we’re here for. These kids live on a dream. We want them to enjoy themselves and have a good time. We have a good time.”
Irene Hilsendager’s column each week touches on moments in the history of Cotati, Rohnert Park and Penngrove.