In January, Jonathon Michael Lee will don the blue and gold uniform that 15 NCAA individual champions have worn since UCLA began its men's gymnastics program 65 years ago. He will be part of the same program that produced Mitch Gaylord, Peter Vidmar and Tim Daggett, who each won gold medals in the 1984 Olympic Games.
However, there is more to his earning a scholarship with the defending national champions than a couple of double-backs and full twists.
Lee comes from a family that is possessed by the sometimes fanatical sport of gymnastics. From his father Jerry, the boys' coach at Monarchs National Gymnastics Training Center in Agoura Hills, to his younger brother Zachary, the nation's top-ranked 12-year-old, the family lives and breathes gymnastics.
The road to success has been a rocky one for the Lees. Jerry's dream of opening his own gymnastics club ended in bankruptcy in 1984. Trying to pay his debts, he twice worked his way into a hospital for ulcer treatments. He traveled throughout Texas with his wife Dorothy and two sons for four years, bouncing from one coaching job to another.
And bouncing along right behind him was Jonathon, 17, who graduated from Thousand Oaks High in June. It was his eighth high school.
"I never wanted to stop gymnastics," Jerry said. "But every time I got so overwhelmed, so into it, that it dominated my life. It's been tough on us, but we owe our lives to gymnastics, many times over."
Jerald Michael Lee wanted his sons to be two of the world's best gymnasts ever since they stood eye to eye with a pommel horse.
"We said, 'Hey, if this is really important, and as parents we have the ability, then we'd be foolish not to use it,' " Jerry said.
Jonathon played Little League baseball until he was 11, then he fell head over heels for gymnastics.
"He was always doing back flips off the couch," Jerry said. "It became obvious that Jon wanted to do gymnastics more than anything."
As a 12-year-old, Jonathon won the Kansas and Texas state all-around titles in addition to the Region III (Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas) title. In January, 1987, he represented the United States in a dual meet against Australia in Colorado Springs, Colo., and competed in the National Sports Festival in North Carolina last July.
At a national tryout, where officials examine gymnasts' skills, flexibility and strength, Jonathon finished third among Class I (ages 16-18) gymnasts. In April, he was on the U. S. National Team that competed in Spain in a dual meet.
College recruiters did not have to look twice at his resume. Lee was recruited by 25 of the top gymnastics programs in the nation, including Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Brigham Young.
"He wasn't a natural talent, but he was always loaded with desire," said Jerry, who clearly has infected his entire family with a passion for gymnastics.
Unlike Jonathon, Zachary was physically strong at a young age. He won regional Class III (ages 10-12) all-around titles in each of his first three years of competition. Although he was competing in Class II (13-15), he won the high bar title at the Junior national championships two weeks ago in New Mexico.
"He's the best 12-year-old in the country, without a doubt," said Bob Lockwood, who coached men's gymnastics at the University of Kansas for 16 seasons and is a longtime friend of the Lees.
As the boys' coach at Monarchs, Jerry Lee continues to work with his sons, something he has done since Jonathon first tumbled at age 11 and Zachary at 5.
"It's very, very difficult to coach your own children and do a good job of it," said Mike Bisk, the athletic director at Monarchs. "All you have to do is hear a couple of Little League stories about how ridiculous parents get to realize what a fine job Jerry does."
There are some parents, however, who object to Jerry's abrasive style of coaching his two sons.
"There are times when he says, 'I know it hurts, get up and do it again,' " Bisk said. "A mother or grandmother watching might say, 'Doesn't he have any feelings?' "
Jerry Lee is considered one of the top gymnastics coaches in the nation. But he does not draw from his own experiences as an all-world gymnast. Lee was a high school All-American in Medicine Lodge, Kan., and competed for two seasons at Ft. Hays State College.
"Jerry wasn't a great competitor, but at the NAIA level he did pretty well," said Lockwood, who recruited Lee out of high school. "As a coach, he had the ability to motivate kids, put some desire in them."
Lee was an assistant under Lockwood at Kansas from 1974 until 1980, when the program was eliminated despite ranking among the best in the nation. He worked odd jobs and spent some time coaching, then opened his own gymnastics club in 1983. It closed the next year and he filed for bankruptcy.
"It was a hard winter," Lee said.