Perspective- Paul Swafford

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This comes from a conversation I had with Paul Swafford in Providence, RI, at the USA Gymnastics (USAG) T&T National Championships (2016).  Pat Henderson had given me the basic timeline for trampoline governance in the US (and internationally).  Paul filled in some very important details for the period 1978-1983, and more importantly, explained exactly how we came to have two governing bodies for trampoline & tumbling in the US.  The events pertain to the path that trampoline governance took as it was torn away from the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).  Much of it is due to the direct intervention of a man named Bil Copp (Former National Team Coach).  Bil is on the list of people permanently barred from professional membership in USAG, and it looks like he is on that list for good reason.  However, he is the person most directly involved with creating the trampoline governing organization that eventually merged with USAG, so the story cannot be told without him.

The state of affairs in 1978 is as Pat Henderson described it.  The International Trampoline Federation (FIT) governed trampoline internationally, and still recognized AAU as the US Governing body.  The US Trampoline (& Tumbling) Association (USTA) promoted trampoline and ran some domestic competition, but athletes headed to international competition had go through the AAU.  The AAU had been an umbrella organization that governed multiple sports in the US, and represented the US to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  In 1978, the Amateur Athletic Act stripped that governing power away.  According to Paul, what the “Act” did was to take the umbrella away from the AAU, and establish the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) as the sole umbrella.  The USOC was a different kind of umbrella, serving its constituent national sports federations, rather than acting directly as a governing body.  It meant that the AAU could be one of those constituent sports federations, and was still allowed to be an official US governing body, but it could only have one sport.

This is where it gets interesting.  According to Paul, the AAU didn’t give up all of its sports immediately. Several things had to happen to transfer a sport away from AAU.  There had to be a national organization poised to be recognized as the official US governing body.  That organization also had to be incorporated legally, and a request had to be made.  The obvious choice was the USTA, the organization created by George Nissen to take over after the United States Gymnastics Federation (USGF) and the colleges dropped trampoline.  Things went a different way.

Bil Copp and Paul Swafford hatched the scheme in a bar one evening.  Bil had been dissatisfied with USTA.  It had not been as strong an organization as it could have been, promoting, regulating, and providing education for the sport.  Bil thought they could do better.  As a result of the conversation, Bil moved quickly to incorporate the US Acrogymnastics Federation (USAF).  USAF included the modern TT events, but also included sport acrobatics.  It was a little odd because there already was an official governing body for sport acrobatics, the U.S. Sport Acrobatic Federation (USSAF).  But the USAF served its purpose.  Bil immediately contacted the FIT to request that their organization should be recognized as the official US governing body for trampoline & tumbling.  The FIT turned right around and sent a letter to the AAU asking if this transfer was OK with them.  The letter came right to Paul Swafford at the AAU, who wrote right back on AAU stationary to say, “Yes it is.”  And that was it.  Trampoline now had two U.S. governing bodies, and for better or worse, the “official” governing body was the one nobody saw coming.  (… and they should all have been talking like pirates.)

The USAF survived a very short time.  Bil was hoping for T&T and sport acrobatics to merge into a single organization, both internationally and in the US.  They could not convince the USSAF to merge with them, and the IOC indicated that holding on to the acrobatics events could hinder their Olympic aspirations.  This coincides with a story I had heard from Bil Copp in the early 1990s, that a turf squabble (from his perspective) had deprived them of an earlier opportunity to get into the Olympics.  Anyway, the USAF reinvented itself (1982ish) as the American Trampoline & Tumbling Association (ATTA), dropping the sport acrobatic events.  The ATTA went through one more reinvention (1994ish), into USA Trampoline & Tumbling (USATT), and that is the organization that merged into USAG.  You may recall that until 2011, the USAG had its Trampoline and Tumbling headquarters in Brownfield, TX (while everything else was in Indianapolis).  That was the old headquarters of the ATTA, and later USATT.

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