Greg Hansen: Karadbil surprised by call from Hall of Fame

2012-11-09T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Karadbil surprised by call from Hall of FameGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

No one has officially counted the athletes, administrators and coaches of every sort who have worn Arizona Wildcats colors over the last century, but a good guess is that it's close to 14,000.

Do you know how many have been inducted into the school's Sports Hall of Fame? Exactly 308. That's what, 2.2 percent?

So unless you are Annika Sorenstam or Terry Francona you don't wait for the mail expecting an invitation to Hall of Fame weekend.

Sometimes, when your after-UA life is so complicated and busy, when you move from Phoenix to Las Vegas to Los Angeles and then to New York City, you forget that you used to hit it out of the park. You forget there might be some down-the-line reward for being an All-American.

Since Jenna Karadbil left Arizona's gymnastics team in 1995, she has gotten her Screen Actor's Guild card, appeared in TV shows, worked with Penn and Teller, done TV commercials, worked as a software specialist for Motorola, returned to Tucson to graduate from Law School and - whew - moved to Manhattan to work corporate law, something she does so well that she is listed among the Who's Who of Internet, e-Commerce and Data Protection law.

A few weeks ago, Jenna answered a call from her alma mater's athletic department, somewhat urgent, asking why she had not returned documents that needed to be processed for this weekend's Hall of Fame festivities.

"I said 'what documents?'" Karadbil remembers. "I didn't know; it was quite unexpected."

Because Karadbil has been a woman-in-motion - she still travels around the country as an NCAA gymnastics judge, working 10 or 12 weekends a year in her old sport - and because she has moved from coast to coast, the UA had been unable to deliver the good news.

"It was a funny story, being so out of touch," she says. "I did well at the UA, but I was not a star. This is all very humbling."

This is where UA gymnastics coach Bill Ryden disagrees. If you stand at center court at McKale Center, you can't miss the Ring of Fame that goes on and on and on with the names of his former All-America gymnasts. Already, seven have been inducted into the Hall of Fame: Kristi Gunning, Heidi Hornbeek, Stacy Fowlkes, Anna Basaldua, Diane Monty, Kelly Chaplin and Mary Kay Brown.

Kardadbil's name is eighth in the Ring of Honor line, which makes it chronologically perfect, overdue perhaps, that she be inducted into the Hall of Fame tonight.

"She's feisty and tenacious, a type-A personality who is very focused," says Ryden. "When I recruited her, she told me she wanted to be a Supreme Court judge. She's that driven. She excelled at everything she did at Arizona."

How's that for an endorsement?

When Ryden and his predecessor, Jim Gault, were building Arizona into a nationally relevant gymnastics program in the early '90s, they had one scholarship to give and were searching the country for an elite, all-around gymnast. They found Jenna Karadbil in Virginia, of all places, something of a gymnastics prodigy who had been in the sport since she was 3, and in competition since she was 7.

It wasn't that Gault and Ryden got lucky; Gault was Kerri Strug's first coach. They knew gymnastics talent when they saw it.

As an Arizona freshman, on the beam, at which she ultimately became the Pac-10 champion and an All-American, Karadbil became the first Wildcat in history never to fall from the beam over an entire season. Even now, two decades later, as the sport gets more and more sophisticated, it's rare for a college gymnast not to fall during a beam routine.

"It was unheard of," says Ryden. "We beat No. 1 Alabama that year, and Jenna was last up during the meet, on the beam. The pressure was very intense, but I've never known Jenna to do anything poorly.

"None of the upperclassmen on that great team had no-fall years, but here was this little freshman - Jenna is probably 4-feet-10, a big personality in a small body - coming out with an attitude like, 'I am not coming off, regardless.'"

In '93, Arizona had its greatest gymnastics season in history, reaching the NCAA's Super Six, which is the equivalent of a basketball team at the Final Four. By the time Karadbil graduated, with a degree in information systems, she had been a three-time All-American on beam and a three-time All-Pac-10 gymnast.

No wonder the Hall of Fame committee was looking for her this summer.

There's a bit of irony in Karadbil's return to campus this week. On the week that McKale Center's equipment room caught fire and suffered significant damage, Karadbil remembers the 1993 fire that virtually destroyed the gymnastics facility, then in the old Ina Gittings building across the mall from McKale.

The team spent the rest of the season working out of a west-side gymnastics facility, vagabonds of a sort, a once-in-a-generation team that had came together to reach the NCAA finals, putting a remarkable season in the books that continues to resonate in the new Mary Roby Gymnastics facility.

Before tonight's induction ceremony, Karadbil will return to the Roby center, performing not on the beam but as a judge for the UA's intrasquad meet.

"This is just a training period for us, but I suspect Jenna will really be into it, in midseason form," says Ryden. "But that's what I expect; she does nothing halfway."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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