From the Sidelines
This week, the Daily Bruin dives into the stories of current and former UCLA Athletics’ team managers to shed light on an often-overlooked role.
Brandon Choe / Daily Bruin senior staff
When coach Valorie Kondos Field met then-high school senior Cory Tomlinson, she saw his possible value to the team. So she pulled some strings to bring Tomlinson to UCLA, and eventually to the team as a manager.
BY ZACHARY LEMOS
UCLA gymnastics has never lost a member quite like the one it will lose next season.
Each year, the team loses a class of high-scoring seniors and must find a way to replace their production.
This year, however, the team graduates a member who, though he has never competed in a day of gymnastics in his life, coach Valorie Kondos Field said she considers equally valuable to the team’s highest scorers: senior team manager Cory Tomlinson.
“You can always count on him to bring the energy and the fun, the serious fun – he pumps (the athletes) up in competition probably more than we do as coaches,” she said.
“He’s as vital to the team as many of our all-arounders are.”
Undergraduate assistant coach Kassidy Kozai said there’s no question how important Tomlinson is to the team, though his job only officially revolves around managing the team’s equipment and attire.
“At meets, depending on who we’re competing against, he knows exactly what to do – he’ll just get in the middle of the floor and just start breakdancing or singing or going crazy and it just makes everyone laugh and forget about the competition environment,” Kozai said. “Someone has very big shoes to fill next year.”
“He’ll just say, ‘You know, you trained really hard for this; there’s no reason why you can’t go out there and just perform what you do.’ And at the same time, outside of that little bubble, he’s just dancing around behind the judges so he definitely knows how to separate when to be serious and when to have fun and dance.”
Today, it’s hard to imagine a Bruin gymnastics team without Tomlinson – until his senior year of high school, he hadn’t even attended a gymnastics meet. In fact, at the time, he didn’t even expect to get into UCLA.
Then, at his third-ever gymnastics meet that year, his father Jerry Tomlinson, a former UCLA men’s and women’s gymnastics coach himself, introduced Tomlinson to Kondos Field.
After only a few hours with the younger Tomlinson, Kondos Field saw parallels between him and her old boss, Jerry Tomlinson.
“Jerry and I clicked. We felt like family immediately and that’s how I felt when I met Cory,” she said. “I felt like he was my son and there was this immediate comfort with each other.”
Despite the high school swimmer knowing nothing about gymnastics, Kondos Field saw the value he could bring to her team and took action to make him a part of it.
Since UCLA doesn’t have an NCAA men’s swim team, Kondos Field told men’s golf coach Derek Freeman to recruit the energetic senior, who played high school golf, as a walk-on, though she ultimately ended up benefitting most.
“I said, ‘This kid is probably not giving you the numbers that you would want to recruit, but as far as as his energy and his character, he will be that glue on your team that everyone will gravitate to immediately,’” Kondos Field said.
However, it was for gymnastics that Tomlinson ended up being the glue, as Kondos Field predicted. He spent a year on the golf team but quit in his sophomore year to officially become a gymnastics team manager – only staying off the team his freshman year because the position was filled.
“They used to call him E.G. for ‘equipment guy’ when he was first there. He took his role so seriously and did more of what they were asking of him, but he just took that role on himself. It was just this natural thing.”
When he started as team manager, Tomlinson knew very little about his new sport but he came from a family with a history of NCAA gymnastics success – his father, Jerry Tomlinson, won four NCAA titles with the now-discontinued men’s team, and hired Kondos Field.
Like Kondos Field, ex-UCLA gymnast Sharon Shapiro, who was on the team from 1979 to 1982, saw shared traits between Tomlinson and his father.
“Jerry was full of energy and craziness, smiling all the time,” Shapiro said. “Cory is so much like his dad in that aspect.”
Tomlinson’s passion and energy translated into learning everything possible about his new sport. He spent hours outside practice pouring over hours of YouTube footage and listened to an unending stream of explanations from Kondos Field during meets.
At this point, Jerry Tomlinson figures that his son, who once knew nothing about gymnastics, could even make a career out of the sport if he wanted to.
“I have seen him go from being kind of interested in something his dad did to becoming a great coach,” Jerry Tomlinson said. “Now, the world is his oyster – he could go anywhere he wants and become a great coach.”
But like many of his graduating teammates, Tomlinson said he expects to be done with gymnastics after this season.
His dedication, passion and selflessness will still be Tomlinson’s defining characteristics; he just won’t be showing them off every weekend on the gymnastics floor.
“The root of who Cory is is all about service,” said his mother, Donna Tomlinson. “It is all about making other people’s lives better, whether it be … at church or helping youth or through ministry or whatever. That is just the fabric of who Cory is. I don’t see him ever veering from that.”