For members of the Michigan men’s gymnastics team, the sign that they’ve made it isn’t when they receive their official athletic gear, or when their profile goes up on .
They’ve arrived when they are given a number by the upperclassmen.
Numbers usually refer to a personal quirk or some well-remembered event (eating an entire foot-long hot dog in one mouthful, for example), and develop into an often-comic reminder of that gymnast’s first year.
Some numbers have simple origins. Sophomore Ralph Rosso became 23 because he completed 23 handstand pushups in his first week as a freshman.
No. 17 went to junior Arren Yoshimura for winning a strength contest with a 17-second cross on the still rings.
Senior co-captain Andrew Elkind is No. 11 because his older teammates noticed he did about 11 balances before a tumbling pass or vault.
“My number is 32 because everyone says when I smile, you can see all 32 teeth,” sophomore Joe Catrambone said.
But sometimes a more detailed explanation is necessary.
“I’m 98 – they got that from 98 degrees (the body temperature) and Degree, the deodorant,” junior Paul Woodward said. “(During freshman year) I had a reputation of coming into morning strength at seven in the morning not smelling the best. When we’re doing hard circuits and sweating a lot, and you haven’t had a shower that day, it’s just not good. That was me as a freshman. My first-semester time management was not always the best.”
Junior Dan Rais was tagged with 13, a baker’s dozen – and not just for his love of sweets.
“In the beginning of my freshman year, I was a little heavier, so I got made fun of for being fatter on the team,” Rais said. “So one time I was on vault, and I did my double full. They (said I was) like a Krispy Kreme – warm and soft in the middle, but good.”
The story behind sophomore Ryan McCarthy’s No. 4 is a little more complicated.
The number refers to both McCarthy’s fondness for bubble tea and his engineering aspirations. After trying and loving bubble tea in Los Angeles, he was delighted to discover Bubble Island in Ann Arbor.
“I go to it like once or twice a week,” McCarthy said. “I’m also kind of a nerd because I’m an engineer and I like computer stuff. My number has to do with the address of Bubble Tea in binary. When it’s all added together, it equals four.”
As of yet, this year’s freshmen haven’t received their numbers. They’ll probably get them after the first regular-season meet of the year, the Windy City Invitational in Chicago.
The numbers might be embarrassing, complicated or just plain silly. But for the freshmen, as for their older teammates, they will be one more sign that the young gymnasts have officially become part of the Michigan tradition.
And it’s a safe guess that the numbers will keep drawing smiles and laughs for years to come.