Vannie Edwards was a woman’s gymnastic coach who was widely sought by aspiring young gymnasts. He was the Women’s Gymnastic Coach in Tokyo when we met, and I remember he “comped” me to one night’s solo stay in a typical Japanese style hotel. It was quite a different experience and I thank him for the memory. Vannie coached a number of talented young ladies, among them Janie Speaks, Claudia Fizell, the Johnson twins, Debbie & Donna, Christy Phillips, Sandy Phillips, Kathy Carroll, Debbie Bailey, Carol VanDiver, Mary Camille, Dede Breaugh. All of these athletes were national and/or Olympic caliber. He was reputed to be a hard-driving coach in the East Block tradition, but his methods brought results, and our international teams continued to improve rather than stagnate.
Vannie Edwards coached women’s gymnastics at Centenary College for a total of 13 seasons shaping the team into a national powerhouse. He first led the team from 1964 to 1969 and then returned to guide the program again from 1977 to 1985. During his tenure as the women’s Head Coach, he led his teams to Division II national championship gold, and seven times to silver. He was selected to coach the Woman’s Olympic Gymnastic Team, Tokyo, Japan, (1964), and served as team manager for the Women’s Olympic Gymnastic Team in Mexico City, (1968) and Munich, Germany, (1972). Over his final seven seasons, Edwards’ teams won four Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women-Division II titles, one National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics title, and an AIAW second place trophy. More than 30 women Centenary gymnasts were selected as All-Americans. His winning record at Centenary was an incredible 86 & 6 (.935) and an even more impressive 522-18 (.967) career coaching record. Vannie operated a gymnastics academy in Louisiana located in an old school building with coaches like David Neal and Jim Archer to help with the training. Claudia Fizell, a top age-group gymnast from Florida went to train with him at age 15. Her mother, Wilma Fizell, was Florida’s first USGF Women’s State Chairperson, (1970). It would seem she approved of Vannie’s coaching skills and probably encouraged her daughter, Claudia, to make the sojourn. Claudia enrolled in college in Louisiana and became an All-American. A few years later, a group of top women’s gymnastics coaches formed an organization called the U.S. Elite Coaches’ Association, (circa 1974-’75). This body was needed to create collective pressure on the USGF and the judges to do “ . . . the right thing . . . in developing the top female gymnasts from the clubs. The organization had a five-man Board who rotated responsibility. The first five were Bill Coco, Jim Fountiane, Jim Gault, Vannie Edwards, and Bruce Davis. The organization continues to exist today. Edwards also served as the Region 8 Elite Development Director for one or two four-year terms. Honors: Inducted into the USA Hall of Fame in 1986 and into the Centenary College Athletics Hall of Fame on March 23, 1996.
Source: Jerry Wright, author of Gymnastics Who’s Who, 2005. Introduction, commentary, & formatting by Dr. Larry Banner, Web Manager.