Dr. Hartley D. Price
Founder of the University of Illinois Gymkana Troupe
In the 1920s, Harley D. Price attended Springfield College in Illinois. As Dr. David A. Field recalls,
"...while he was there he was under the influence of one of the real pioneers of gymnastics in the country, Leslie J. Judd."
Graduating from Springfield College with a degree in Physical Education, Hartley came to the University of Illinois in 1927 where he worked with C. O. Jackson, director of the University of Illinois Circus. Price put most of his efforts into directing the gymnastic events in the circus.
In an article entitled "Hartley is a Doer Not a Dreamer", Allen Schilhammer of the News-Gazette, picks up the story:
"The year 1929 was significant to Price as in that year he was recommended by Ray Haidloff to coach the gym team. Gymnastic work has always been his long suit and he clearly saw that gymnastics had a real future at Illinois and went whole-heartedly at work instigating interest in the sport.
"But everything did not progress so smoothly for Price and his gym team as gymnastics were cut from the athletic association's budget during the depression and his team had no funds to finance its trips around the conference. After the budget was cut, Illinois still owed Minnesota a return meet and in order to finance the trip to Minneapolis, Price hit upon the idea of having the gymnastic circus...
"Ever since that year, the honorary gymnast fraternity, Gymnastica, has staged its indoor circus. Only 500 persons saw the first performance, but this figure swelled and at the last showing over 3,000 witnessed the ‘best college circus in the country’."
And so Gymkana, an organization giving gymnastics exhibitions, was born. Its first Home Show took place at the George Huff Gymnasium in 1935.
"What is Gymkana? It is an all inclusive physical education activity stressing gymnastics and embracing other widely diversified talents and interests. The very young, the adolescent, the mature and the older individual may find a satisfactory niche within the activity."
Dr. Hartley Price
Gymkana, and a newly enlivened Varsity Gymnastic team, would continue through the rest of the 30s, with the Gymnastic team even becoming the 1939 AAU Big Ten Gymnastics Champions. One member of this championship team was David A. Field. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Price wrote extensively in many physical education journals on all aspects of gymnastics from hand balancing, to apparatus, to spotting techniques.
In addition to David Field, Price would teach others who would go on to found their own Gymkana Troupes, including Ray Weiss who ran a Troupe at Cortland State University and Jim Baley who formed one at Duke University.
In 1942, with World War II gearing up, the Illinois Gymkana Troupe disbanded. During the war, Dr. Price served as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, heading up the gymnastics and tumbling program at the Navy Pre-Flight School in Iowa City, Iowa.
After the war, he briefly returned to the University of Illinois before moving on to Florida State, where he once again established a gymnastic team and a Gymkana Troupe. By now a nationally renowned gymnastic instructor, Dr. Price would take his team on to numerous championships and would coach Bill Roetzheim, a member of the United States Olympic Team in 1948 and 1952. He also took his Gymkana Troupe to new heights of showmanship. His Troupe had as its pledge, the following:
Beneath this symbol, high unfurled,
Reaching out to all the world;
Building bodies lean and strong,
Teaching minds the right from wrong;
We, as brothers, stand as one
Working, till the task is done,
Not for glory to attain,
Nor for self-rewarding fame.
All our praise we give to thee
GYMKANA, may we loyal be.
Dr. Price’s efforts at teaching gymnastics also extended to the young, as is explained in an article in the May 13, 1951 issue of Parade Magazine.
"At Florida State University one day a group of Gymkana acrobats were practicing. Dr. Hartley Price, coach of FSU’s 1951 national collegiate championship gymnastic team, saw some little girls watching.
"‘‘Could we try?’ the youngsters asked.
"‘’Why not?’ smiled Price. Since then his ‘Tumbling Tots’ have been showing that kids properly trained lose fear of falls, become strong, self-reliant, sociable and happy!"
With his retirement in the 1970s, Price's Troupe at Florida State disbanded. Over the years, Troupes established at other colleges would also cease to exist.
But at the University of Maryland, his concept of a student organization dedicated to exhibitional gymnastics, Gymkana, lives on to this day.