Written by Greg Walker
The first coach of the West Virginia University men's gymnastics program, Bill Bonsall served 31 years as the Mountaineer mentor
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Originally from Philadelphia, Pa., Bonsall was born December 31, 1923. He attended Philadelphia's Bartram High School and was a member of that school's inaugural men's gymnastics team in 1939. Bonsall is the only Olympian to have graduated from Bartram High.
He then attended Penn State, where he was a member of the 1942 NCAA championship team. Following his freshman campaign, Bonsall enlisted in the U.S. Army and was among the forces that landed at Normandy on D-Day. He was captured by German forces September 5, 1944, at Dinant, Belgium. Bonsall was held there until he escaped to Warsaw, Poland, on January 31, 1945. He returned to the United States later that year and, after his discharge, re-enrolled at Penn State.
Bonsall picked up his career right where he left off, winning the NCAA rings gold medal in 1946, and the NCAA vaulting gold medal in 1948. He captured a silver medal as an all-around in 1948, as well. Overall, Bonsall's Penn State career included two NCAA championships, two All-America awards, two second-place finishes in the NCAA all-around competition, and two NCAA gold medals. He went on to represent the United States in the 1948 Olympic Games in London.
After graduating from Penn State in 1949, the Olympian came to WVU, where he earned his master's degree in 1950. He became the coach of the WVU's men's gymnastics team, then a club sport, and was WVU's first men's gymnastics coach when the program was elevated to varsity status in 1952. During his career, Bonsall led the Mountaineers to three Southern Conference championships and a fifth-place national finish in 1963.
Along the way, Bonsall initiated the Special Olympics program of West Virginia in 1963, was the director of the WVU all-campus intramural sports program for seven years, and taught numerous classes for WVU students. He retired from coaching in 1980.
Bonsall was named to the United States Gymnastics Hall of Fame and the West Virginia Sports Writers Hall of Fame in 1983, and the WVU School of Physical Education Hall of Fame in 1991.
Bonsall and his wife of 48 years, Jean, live in Morgantown. They have three grown children and six grandchildren. Bonsall and his wife are the co-owners of Paige Creations, the largest distributor of post cards in the state of West Virginia. The two are also active members of the Rotary Club of Morgantown and was involved with the Morgantown "Vision 2000" project.