Biography: VAVRA, Charles “Charlie”

VAVRA, Charles “Charlie” (d)

Inducted: 1963 Born: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Coach Charlie Vavra was a man who arrived at the University of Colorado to stay a year that became a career. As quoted in the Denver Post, Charlie said, “Life is not a series of awards, testimonials, etc. as it is with many sports figures. With me, it’s just plenty of work with no fanfare.” As we explore the professional life of Vavra, it would be reasonable to say that he understated the phrase “ . . . plenty of work . . .”

Charles Vavra started as a gymnast in school specializing in PH and HB. He served in the military during WWI (1918-1919) and in 1920, after graduating from George Williams College in Chicago,  Charles Vavra accepted the position as a physical education instructor at the U. of Colorado for a period of one year.  His philosophy was “ . . . to introduce students to various athletic endeavors. We require everyone to learn to swim at least enough to save themselves in an emergency. We try to get our boys interested in some sort of physical activity. Out goal is to get the boys interested in themselves and attain the feeling that by exercise they become more complete individuals.” He pioneered gymnastics in Colorado and by 1929 he was coaching the U. of Colorado’s first gymnastic club that he built into an NCAA competitive team by 1930. By 1952, the University of Colorado hosted the NCAA Championships. Eventually he became Head of the Physical Education Department. A “year” had become a career. He says that it was the country, the climate, and just everything about Colorado made him decide to stay. According to the Denver Post, “Vavra’s is the story of the quiet little fellow who can’t be singled out for anything spectacular, yet has been a guiding hand for thousands of male graduates of Colorado University. It’s the story of a ‘little guy’, who plugs away day after day, with little to boast about-except accomplishment.”  Charlie was also a member of the NCAA Gymnastics Rules committee. In addition, he started the CU Invitational that serves as a state tournament for Colorado high school gymnasts and served as the CU Invitational’s meet director until at least 1961.  At CU Charlie established what was called the “Pentagon Club.” It was formed to provide a gymnastics outlet for students that were unable to qualify for the competition team. The Pentagon Club was primarily an exhibition team that performed at basketball half-times and before many civic organizations throughout the state. Eventually the pentagon Club competed in AAU competitions. By 1941 his varsity team won the Rocky Mountain AAU Team title and several individual events and was prominently displayed and mentioned in the 1942 Yearbook. His Pentagon Club teams won Gold team titles in the Rocky Mountain AAU Championships, (1950, ’51, ’52, & ’54). Charlie Vavra not only produced winning teams, he helped produce outstanding citizens. Among these were Royal Rubright, who was on his 1927 club team and later an attorney in Denver, John Burky became a Captain in the Navy, Bill Haase (1951), one of the best gymnasts in CU history, became a banker in Chicago, William Eubank (1949) became a physician in Kansas City, and Tom Arnberg (1947) became a member of the engineering faculty at CU.  Scott Glenn, the astronaut, was a member of Charlie’s Pentagon Club, but one of his most amazing gymnasts was Don Rogers who lost a leg to infection after an accident yet later became an excellent trampolinist, winning Bronze-TR at the 1951 Rocky Mountain AAU meet. Family: (m) Ruth. Children: John and James, both of whom graduated from CU.

Sources: CU Press releases, Pentagon Program, and the archives of the Denver Post, Feb. 10, 1957 provided courtesy of Jerry Wright, author of Gymnastics Who’s Who, 2005. Introduction, commentary, and formatting by Dr. Larry Banner, Web Manager. For additional information about UC’s sports program click on .