Jody and Hal did head for New York. They came in 7th and 8th, Jody right on the heels of Hal. Hal's time was 2:27:48.4 and Jody crossed the line just one tenth of a second later. They had achieved their goal!
Hal and Sue invited Tim and me for dinner very soon after their triumphant return from New York. The invitation came in a phone call from Hal, rather than Sue, and Tim and I sensed that Hal had something pretty serious that he wanted to talk about. Nothing was said before dinner as we dug into some really wonderful raspberry salsa that someone had brought to Hal from Indiana. With the two of them going back and forth to the kitchen from time to time to get the meal ready, serious talking was impossible. Hal didn't give anything away during dinner, and conversation revolved around Junior's reading and Bud's computer. Tim and I were astonished at both. It seemed that Hal and Sue were raising a couple of geniuses.
After dinner the boys headed upstairs to do homework and the four of us settled down in the living room. Hal began, "I don't usually wait for the boys to leave in order to have a serious discussion. We don't hide things from the boys. But I think this might be an exception, at least while it's in the discussion stage."
"What's on your mind, Hal?" asked Tim, but I knew from Tim's and my speculations since we'd gotten the invitation that Tim had a good idea of what Hal's answer would be.
"I'd like to talk about Jody and me."
I said, "You did very well in New York. It's all over the local newspaper-'Local duo invades New York'."
"That was an absurd headline. But we did do well. I was really impressed that Jody ran the race he did. He's constantly improving and setting personal bests. He's bested his New York time already."
"When're the Olympic Trials for track and field?"
"In May at the University of Oklahoma."
"Your old stomping ground. Will that help any?"
"Not really. But I'll enjoy showing Jody around."
Tim said, "OK, Hal, you didn't invite us over to talk about running. We know you can run like Hell, and evidently Jody can keep up with you. That's impressive, but it's not what's really on your mind. You want to talk about love and support."
"God, Tim, am I that obvious?"
"No, the Gang is that obvious."
"OK, Jody's figured out that love and support in the Gang is often sexual. He's now eighteen and he wants to play."
"But he's still in high school. Just a kid. Right?"
"And just what about him makes him a kid? Certainly not his size. Not his maturity level. Not his athletic ability. Not any lack of ability to relate to adults twice his age. Not his age-the law says he's an adult."
"You sound like you've thought about this and are ready to tell me to cross the line."
"What line? Jody's already moved onto your side of just about any line you might care to draw. Well, if you coached at Central High it might screw things up a little. But you don't."
"Jody says you told him quite a bit about love and support within the Gang."
"Jody may talk too much."
"Bullshit. You don't keep things like that secret."
"So what have you told Jody?"
"I told him before we left for New York that no lines would be crossed in New York. But if things turned out well in New York, and I thought we were headed for Seoul, then there would be no line between us."
"So there's nothing to talk to Charlie and me about. You're committed."
"I know. But I wanted your take on it. More importantly, I wanted you both to know what's going on. We don't have secrets in the Gang."
"Thank you. We both appreciate that," I said.
Tim said, "OK, there is one other thing. A pretty big thing. Do we invite him to be a member of the Gang? Does he have any real understanding of what that would mean? For that matter, how much does he really know about the Gang?"
"I'd like to invite him. As to the other questions, yes, he both knows and understands what's involved with the Gang.
Tim said, "Let's get everybody to The Hideout tomorrow just before dinner and talk about this. I'm sure that the group will be strongly in favor."
Sue said, "That's a great idea, but you need to know that I don't think his parents will be far behind. We've heard their life histories, along with Jody's, and that's when they heard a lot of the story of the Gang. I think they'll be completely compatible with the Gang, and eager to join. But I don't think they have the slightest idea that they might be invited."
I said, "So we'll discuss them as well as Jody tomorrow night."
"Is the fact that Franz in on the faculty an issue?"
"Well, we have Charlie, Ronnie, Kyle, Sharon, Carl does adjunct teaching, Fred's a trustee. We aren't exactly setting a precedent."
"In all of those cases the Gang relationship came first. Franz is on the faculty already."
"Well, I don't want to be out recruiting faculty members to join the Gang. We don't have that kind of relationship with faculty members. However, we have to recognize that with the size of the Gang here in Grand Forks, some will develop close relationships with faculty. No big deal. As we've said before, I think sexual relationships between Charlie and me and the Matthews' are a no-no. We don't even know that the Matthews' have any interest in the sexual aspects of the Gang, and it isn't a prerequisite for joining."
Sue said, "No, but stripping for Sid is, don't forget."
Hal said, "I didn't think of that. You have to have your picture in Gangland. I suspect that Franz and Anna can handle that. I'm sure that Jody can."
We made a bunch of phone calls, and virtually all of the resident Gang showed up at the Hideout at 5:30 the next evening for the discussion. Really, there wasn't much of a discussion. Everybody congratulated Hal on both his success in New York, and for his success at developing Jody. They did kid him that he was reneging on his retirement announcement.
Jim's father, Walter, asked, "Do you mean to tell me that Jody's parents are open to his having a relationship with Hal, and maybe to joining the Gang, without their having had the Charlie treatment? They must be truly exceptional people."
Hal said, "Some time we'll get them to tell you their story. It was fascinating. They're going to fit right in."
It was decided that the invitation ought to be extended to the three Matthews' all together, and Hal and Sue were delegated to do it. They invited the Matthews' to dinner again, and it was arranged for Monday evening of the next week. Hal took Jody for a marathon run after school that day and Jody set another personal best at 2:22 and a half. (They didn't keep more accurate practice times than the nearest quarter minute.) He still had a ways to go to have a chance at an Olympic slot, but his times were consistently improving. Both he and Hal were hoping that the improvement would continue. I should note that Hal was running about ten minutes slower than the pace he'd set in the Olympics. Since he always ran with Jody, it wasn't at all clear just how fast he'd be able to run. But he was confident that he could keep ahead of Jody, and if Jody got good enough to make the Olympics, so would Hal.
Their marathon ended right in front of Hal's house, and he and Jody came inside as soon as they'd run a slow half-mile to cool down. Jody's parents were there, enjoying a glass of wine, when Jody came in. He and Hal headed upstairs to the master bedroom and showered and changed together. As much as Jody was tempted, nothing sexual happened (outside of their minds, that is). Jody correctly surmised that he should wait for Hal to make the first move. He trusted Hal to keep his promise that the line was gone.
At dinner Hal talked about everything that was involved in being part of the Gang. He again stressed unconditional love and support as the key to being a full member of the Gang.
Franz' first question was interesting, "Where on earth did you ever get the name, the Gang? It sounds threatening."
Hal said, "We never consciously named ourselves. We were a group of eight, and often found ourselves using phrases like, 'Is the gang all here?', or 'It's quite a gang,' or 'Be a part of the gang.' When we wrote to each other someone started capitalizing Gang, and the label stuck. As time went on we got fairly specific about who was a member of the Gang, and what the obligations of membership were."
Anna said, "Clearly there's a pretty strong sexual element to this Gang."
Sue said, "Yes, Anna, there is. But it's not a requirement to be a member of the Gang. I guess all of the present members have had sex with most of the other members, but it isn't a condition of membership. It isn't a kind of initiation. Several members opted out of the sex at first, and it wasn't held against them in any way. But for a variety of very personal reasons, all have moved to having some level of sexual relationship in the Gang. I think that the only rule we have to suggest to a new Gang member would be, 'Thou shalt not be offended by sexual invitations from other members of the Gang.' But saying, 'No,' is always accepted."
Hal said, "Well, that's not quite the whole story. When one joins the Gang one gets a visit from Sid. That's Sid Madison, the artist. He paints a nude portrait of each new Gang member, or group of new members. I can't really tell you what we do with the portraits until you're a part of the Gang, but they're only viewed within the Gang. So be prepared for that if you decide to accept our invitation."
Sue realized that Hal had gotten ahead of the conversation. She said, "We've been talking about the Gang, but I'm not really sure that we made it clear why. We all talked last week about inviting Jody to be part of the Gang. It seemed very clear that that was what he wanted. From some of the things he said, we gathered that you two might also like to be part of the Gang. The long and the short of it is that we're extending an invitation to all three of you to be part of us."
Jody said, "Oh, wow. My God. That's fabulous. He ran to Hal and hugged him, and Hal pushed his hug back so that they could kiss. And Hal gave Jody the kiss of his life. Sue walked over and hugged the two of them while they kissed."
Franz and Anna watched all of this with smiles on their faces. Franz said, "Clearly nothing you could've done could make Jody happier. We talked, and I know that he's ready to make a real commitment to you people."
Sue said, "What about you and Anna?"
"Well, for us it's easy. We already live in Grand Forks and have no intention of moving. I know, I know, the Grand Forks piece isn't the most important; love and support is. But living in Grand Forks is important, and the fact that we aren't talking about a big change in living arrangements, job, etc. is important. As for the other aspects of the Gang, it looks to us like one of the most wonderful opportunities of our lives." Franz looked at Anna and she was nodding her head affirmatively. He continued, "We'll be delighted to join with Jody in being a part of your Gang."
Hal said, "You're going to get a visit from Sid. Don't be shy, just go along for the ride. Soon after that we'll arrange for you to meet most of the Gang at The Hideout and we'll walk over to Gangland and show you that."
"The Hideout? Gangland? What're we getting into?"
"Well, The Hideout is Tim and Charlie's old house that they lived in as students, and until Tim became President."
"I know the house."
"Well, it's now kind of a meeting place for the Gang, but more importantly it's a place for the children of the Gang to play together. Jody's a little old, but he may enjoy dropping by. And he can take friends there as well. Next door is The Roundhouse where some of the youngest members of the Gang live. I'm sure that they'll welcome Jody as a visitor any time. They're quite a group."
Jody asked, "That's where Toppy lives, isn't it?"
"Toppy and eight others. You'll meet them all. As for Gangland, you'll just have to wait and see what that's all about."
A couple of days later I met with Sid and told him about the Matthews'. In particular, I thought that he should know about the sleeping habits of the family and the fact that Jody observed them having sex and they observed him jacking off.
"That's quite an interesting group. It suggests all kinds of things for the wall at Gangland. Thanks for the tip. I'll get over there with my sketch book very soon."
"Very soon" was the next day. When he called and asked when he could come by, he, Cathy, and Auggie were invited for dinner the next evening. The two families got to know each other over dinner, and found that they really enjoyed each other's company. Franz said, "I'm quite sure that I'm going to have no regrets about being a part of this Gang. Already we're meeting two fascinating people that have lived in Grand Forks for years and whom we haven't met before."
Sid said, "You may change you mind when I take you three upstairs after dinner."
Anna said, "Hal warned us."
As dessert ended Cathy said, "Why don't Auggie and I clear the table and do the dishes while Sid takes the three of you upstairs."
"Oh, just leave the dishes. We have a dishwasher."
"You go ahead, Auggie and I need something to do. We'll fill the dishwasher. Sid won't take too long, he sketches incredibly quickly. We'll be fine here."
Sid came by the administration building the next day and caught Tim and me in my office. He really enjoyed telling of his "sitting" the night before. He told us, "I don't really think the word sitting properly describes it."
He continued, "As we walked up the stairs Anna asked whether Hal was kidding when he'd told them I'd do a nude portrait. I assured them that Hal hadn't been kidding. I said, 'I understand you have a really huge bed up here. Let's head there.' As soon as we were in the bedroom I continued, 'OK, we can beat around the bush with this for who knows how long, or we can all just take our clothes off.' With that I simply took off my clothes and laid them on a chair. It was pretty clear that there was a real sexual element to the whole thing, because I was as hard as a rock. Jody got into the swing of things and started pulling off his shoes and socks. But when he got to his underwear, he realized that he too was hard as a rock and wasn't used to being seen like that, including by his parents. I got out my sketch book and started drawing. I got a most interesting series of pictures as the three of them slowly got their clothes off. Franz was last, also embarrassed by a serious hard-on.
"Charlie, Tim, I gotta admit it was fun, and arousing. I'll also have to admit that I was deliberately pushing their buttons. They were good sports, but I don't think they were ready for my next question, 'When you fuck, what's your favorite position?'
"Franz and Anna didn't answer, but Jody spoke for them. He said, 'They usually use the missionary position, but the one time I saw Mom being a cowgirl she was the hottest.'
"Anna said, 'Jody. When did we ever....'
"Jody interrupted her and said,'It was the night we came home from the Bruders, and they'd told us about all of the sexual aspects of their lives. You and Dad were both hot. You didn't even pay any attention to whether I was asleep.'
"I asked if they'd be willing to give me a demonstration and let me sketch. Anna exclaimed, 'You aren't serious?'
"Jody said, 'Mom, he certainly is.'
"Franz said, 'I don't know whether I could do it with an audience.'
"At this point I said, 'I just need you in position so I can sketch. And then, Jody, I need you to jack off for me.'
"Franz started laughing. 'I think he has our number, Jody. Come on, Anna, let's show him what we can do.' They did, and then Jody did. After they'd all finished-and Franz and Anna had proved they could perform with an audience-Franz said, 'My son's pretty well endowed, isn't he?'
"I said, 'Yes, he is. But wait until you meet Franklin and Phil. Jody's taller, but I don't think he's longer. Well, you all have been good sports; I think you'll like your portraits.' I got dressed quickly, and sketched the three of them as they got their hormones calmed down, Jody's mess cleaned up, and their clothes on.
"Franz asked, 'Sid why did you take your clothes off? To make us comfortable?'
"I said, 'Oh, no. I always strip when I'm working on nude paintings. It heightens the sexuality; believe me, it comes through in the paintings. I'll be nude as I turn these sketches into your portrait.'
"God, guys, as soon as we got home and got Auggie to bed Cathy and I headed for our own bed. Was I hot! Cathy was delighted."
About a week later we all gathered at The Hideout for dessert-a selection of homemade cakes and pies that were guaranteed to fatten everybody-and a chance to welcome the Matthews' to the Gang. Toppy took them for a tour of The Roundhouse, and when they came back those that wanted to (generally those that didn't have children to care for) headed for Gangland. It took four trips in the elevator, and then we all gathered outside the utility closet. Carl opened the door and we all filed in by the corridor light, gathering in the dark main room. When we were all in, Carl clicked on the light and we all stared at the paintings. They were all new to the Matthews' and they were flabbergasted. The rest of us looked to the far right and there was Sid's portrait of the Matthews family. They were all three on the big bed, which had been carefully reproduced. To the right Franz and Anna were fucking, cowgirl style. Anna's head was turned to the left so that we saw her in profile, looking like she was just reaching an orgasm. Franz' head was tilted up and he was straining, looking like an orgasm was about a minute away. Jody was on the left side of the bed, watching his parents, and stroking a very hard dick. He looked more interested in what was going on on the other side of the bed, than in his own efforts, but they hadn't been abandoned. You could sense that as soon as his father came, Jody would be ready to give his undivided attention to his own business. It was Sid's most erotic painting yet, and everybody actually cheered as they saw it.
Anna said, "I wouldn't want to see that picture anywhere but in the company of the rest of these portraits, but here, it is exciting. And, Sid, you are a wonderful artist. Even if this is pure pornography, I love it."
Well, I'll have to admit it was pretty close to pure pornography. But according to the courts, to be pure pornography it had to have no redeeming qualities. How about the fact that it was great art by a great artist? I don't know and I don't care. It still hangs in Gangland, and we all love it.
We had one more ceremony to accomplish. Tim asked Franz, Jody, and Anna to stand at the foot of the bed, facing toward the bed and away from most of the rest of us who were gathered around the rest of the room. Tim said, "OK, you three, moon us."
Jody didn't hesitate. It was clear that he was eager to explore the sexual aspects of being a member of the Gang, and this was a first opportunity, even if limited. Franz and Anna followed along more slowly. Then Tim got out his jumbo permanent marker and said, "I think the next number goes to Jody, who first got involved with Hal. Jody you are Gang member number 59," and Jody got a 5 on one bun and a 9 on the other. "Anna, it's ladies first, so you are 60," continued Tim, appropriately marking her buns. "And Franz, you are 61," and he was marked. Tim went on, "You now have two choices. You can pull up your clothes and the ceremony is over, or you can turn around and let us peek a little before you pull up your clothes."
Jody turned around immediately, thrusting his hips more than a little before he pulled up his briefs over a very stiff erection. He stood there, obviously still hard watching his parents, who were slowly turning around and quickly pulling up their clothes. Franz got only slightly hard. Jody was the last to get his clothes fully reassembled.
Franklin called out, "Welcome to the Gang. You all are going to fit in very well."
Jody said, "We have been told that you are very well endowed."
Jerry said, "Well, he is, a little. But it's my brother Phil who's really well endowed. Why don't you show off a little, Phil?"
Phil said, "Be quiet, Jerry. This isn't the time or the place."
Carl said, "Well, I don't know about the time, but I certainly think that this is the place. Look around. Of course, you really don't have to pull down your pants, we can look at the picture of you on the wall."
Franklin said, "Well, he's all covered with soap. It's hard to tell just how big that thing is. Phil, get your clothes off, show your thing off, and then I'll join you in the shower. We'll recreate the picture on the wall."
Everybody cheered Phil on while he did a slow strip tease. He was only semi-hard as he stood in front of us, so Franklin walked over, took his dick in his hand and squeezed it methodically. He turned to Jody and his parents, "That, folks, is the biggest dick in the Gang. And now I am going to wash it."
Franklin stripped off his own clothes and the two of them headed to the shower. Franklin said to the Matthews', "You're welcome to come in and watch, but you are certain to get wet. I suggest you strip down and come on in."
I am quite certain that not even Jody expected this turn of events, but all three did, in fact, slip out of their clothes and join Franklin and Phil in the shower room. Franklin soaped up Phil, and then Phil soaped up Franklin. Well, in reality only the midsection of their bodies got much soap. Then the two of them gently pulled Jody into the shower, then his dad, and then finally Anna. All got well soaped, and all well rinsed. When they came out, they were dried by a random collection of Gang members who surrounded each of them. There had been no orgasms, but it was certainly an erotic moment. It was a spectacular introduction of the three of them to the Gang.
I need to note one thing, which we did talk about a little that evening. In assigning the numbers 59, 60, and 61 to the Matthews', we were not being consistent regarding retiring the numbers of deceased Gang members. Felix had been 18, and that number was reassigned to Sharon when Sid's portraits were originally unveiled. However, Sam did not lose his number upon his death. We realized that to reassign Sam's number would involve either giving everybody with a higher number than Sam a new number, or giving Jody Sam's number. Neither of those alternatives made sense. So if you wanted to know exactly how many current Gang members there were, you had to take the highest assigned number and subtract the number of deceased members, excluding Felix. That meant that as of the moment that Franz got the 1 on his right bun, the Gang had sixty members.
Hal and Jody continued the process of slowly lowering their times until it was time to head to Boston and Norman. But before we join them for those trips, we have to visit the other Olympic hopefuls connected to the Gang.
The first, of course, was Murray. He'd spent the three years since Los Angeles getting ready for Seoul. All of the Circle had supported him in his quest, and there was no question of there being anything in his life to distract him-like, for example, a job. As they all affirmed, his job was to get to Seoul. He went at it like a fiend. He wrestled everybody at UND, regardless of the fact that they were in a larger weight class-right up to heavyweight-and he seldom got beat. He ran, lifted weights, swam, and kept in top physical condition. At least every six weeks or so he either drove or flew over to Ironwood to work with Paul. Paul reported that his own wrestling had improved so much as a result of Murray's pushing that he was ready to try out for the Olympics himself.
The evening of the day Murray told Tim about that conversation, Tim picked up the telephone and called Paul. "Are you serious about trying out for the Olympics in Seoul?"
"What? Where did you get that idea?"
"From Murray. I don't think he took you seriously, but he did report your comment that you might try out for the Olympics."
"Tim, my competitive wrestling days are over. I've got my medal on my office wall, and I'm content. I'd love to see Murray make it to Seoul and get a medal. You know, for a coach that means more that your own medal. It would really be a dream if one of my Ironwood wrestlers got an Olympic medal."
"Paul, you're saying about what I expected you to say. But I called to be sure that you knew that the Gang would be 100% behind you if you decided to head for Seoul yourself. We'd even send Jim out to take over your coaching duties while you worked out."
"Yeah, sure, and who'd take over Jim's coaching duties?"
"This is a university town. We'd have no trouble getting coverage for Jim. I'm serious Paul. We'll all understand if you don't catch the fever again, but done blame it on a lack of time or support. You know that Hal has Olympic fever again, and almost certainly is going to qualify again, along with Jody."
"I knew from your letters that Jody was the newest Gang member. Amanda and I are eager to meet him. But I had no idea that both he and Hal were planning to head for the Olympics."
"They did well in New York, and expect to do even better in Boston. Based on their times, they both should make it to Seoul. Does Hal's going tempt you at all?"
"Tempt me? Hell, yes. But I have to be serious. I'm too many years away from serious competition. I love working out with Murray, but he can beat me. And so can the young squirts in my weight class. But, Tim, I really appreciate your calling. If nothing else, it's really wonderful to contemplate being an Olympian again. And watching Murray compete in Seoul, and perhaps win a medal, will be a high point for me."
"OK, Paul. Why don't you come over here the next time you and Murray practice together. Charlie and I would love to see you, and we can think of some very pleasant ways to entertain you and Amanda."
"I'll bet you can. OK, Tim, we'll try to work it out."
Tim reported the conversation to me as we headed for bed. I asked, "Did you really think he might try to go to Korea?"
"Not really. But we both enjoyed contemplating it. I really like Paul; it was fun dreaming with him."
Paul and Amanda did visit-during the Christmas holidays of 1987. Most of the Gang turned out to see him and Murray wrestle. Paul was right, Murray could beat his old coach. But he had to work like Hell to do it. Paul was in amazingly good shape for a forty year old who hadn't wrestled competitively since college. He proved to be in amazingly good shape in bed as well, as both Charlie and I can attest.
Paul and Amanda divided their time in Grand Forks between staying at Dakota House with Tim and me and at The Roundhouse in one of the third floor guest rooms. Murray had insisted that the Circle be allowed to play host along with the two of us, and we agreed. I think that both Tim and I, as well as Paul and Amanda, knew that Murray had a not very well hidden agenda behind the invitation.
The first night as they all ate together at the big table in the dining room, Murray raised the subject. "Paul, we're all members of the Gang. That means two things: First, we have all been involved in intergenerational sex; and second it's OK for any member of the Gang to invite any other member to be involved in a sexual relationship. Oh, God, Paul, I'd give anything to sleep with you tonight. I owe you so much. And you aren't my coach, nor my pseudo parent any longer. We're sparring partners. Will you come wrestle with me in bed tonight?"
Toppy added, "Amanda, we'd be honored to have you join us as well, or I'd be honored to join you upstairs."
Amanda said, "You know, boys, I think this might be something that the three of you enjoy. I know you have a special relationship with Paul, and I'd be very glad to let you explore that this week. But I'm not sure that I'm ready."
Paul said, "The Gang is an amazing group. They really live by the philosophy that a truly close, loving relationship can be, perhaps should be is the right word, sexual. That love and sexuality is separate from the special love of marriage or gay partnership. Clearly you boys've bought into that philosophy. Amanda and I were brought into the Gang milieu not too long after we were married. It took us a while, but we slowly absorbed the same philosophy. That is, I guess, the long way of saying, 'Yes,' to your question, Murray. I'd be honored. And Amanda isn't rejecting you. She just believes that the really special relationship is with me, as your coach and practice partner, not as your, as you put it, 'pseudo-father'."
Murray said, "I think I understood all of that. And I'm pretty sure that I heard a, 'Yes', in there somewhere. Wonderful." There was a small cheer from the rest of the Circle.
Toppy said, "I'm not sure, hearing your reasoning, that it applies to me. Maybe I should sit out, like Amanda."
Paul said, "No, Toppy. You belong. You two are so much a pair that I can't think of not including you."
"Thanks, Paul, that means a lot. But then shouldn't Amanda be involved for the same reasons?"
Murray said, "Yes, she should. Please, Amanda."
Amanda said, "I have an idea. Murray, why don't you and Paul head to bed, and Toppy, let's you and I watch. Maybe we'll decide to join in, and maybe we won't."
They headed to Murray and Toppy's room and didn't come out until the next morning. The other members of the Circle reported that they were "glowing" when they emerged in the morning, and that Toppy and Amanda were no less "aglow" than Murray and Paul. No further details have ever been forthcoming! However, the next night Paul and Amanda returned to Dakota House. They'd told the boys that the one night was really special and important, they thought that a longer term relationship was probably inappropriate. Murray and Toppy had accepted that.
After the vacation Murray was unstoppable on the wrestling mat. Tim insisted that it was further evidence of the value of love and support. It may be stretching it, but I think he was right. Murray would certainly agree.
This time around the Olympic Trials were, for Murray, not a trial at all. He was undefeated and would be the U.S. lead wrestler in his weight class. Because of the dates of the trials, Murray was the first Gang member to assure his march in the Opening Ceremony.
In the fall of 1987 I got a telephone call from Mike Federer, the President of the North Dakota Bowman's League. I'd kept up my membership in the League even though I'd hung up my bow. They were very pleased to be able to list an Olympic medalist among their membership, and keeping my membership up was the least I could do for the support that they'd given me as I headed for two different Olympics. Mike hadn't been around when I was shooting, but I'd gotten to know him at the Annual Meetings of the League, which I attended faithfully. "Charlie, we've got a kid out here that hopes he can make it to the Olympics next year. He's pretty good. Could you come out and watch him practice? Maybe tell him a little about the Olympics and what you had to do to get there-and win medals. He's good, but I'm not sure he really knows what might be required."
"What's his name? How old is he?"
"He's Jimmy Keelson. I guess he's about 24. He's a graduate of NDSU and now works for the Game and Fish Department. He got interested in target shooting while practicing for his bow hunting. Now I think he's more interested in the target shooting than the hunting, but he does get a deer every year."
"When's a good time to come by and see him?"
"He's here virtually every day from about 5:30 for at least an hour or so. Come about 6:00 and you're sure to catch him."
"I'll try to come by this evening. If not, tomorrow." I did get by that evening, and Tim came with me. He's always interested in meeting potential Olympians. Jimmy Keelson was indeed an impressive archer. Besides being tall, red headed, fit as a fiddle, and quite handsome, he handled the bow with ease and precision. We watched him shoot for a while, and when he took a brief break, we introduced ourselves. I told him that Mr. Federer had told me that he had hopes for the Olympics and invited us to come take a look.
"You shoot very well," I said. "Just how good are you?"
"I break 1300 for a F.I.T.A. round from time to time, but not consistently."
I said, "That's impressive. My best in the Olympics was a 1309. But it's the double round that counts. That's where the consistency comes in-you've got to do it twice in a row."
"Consistency is my problem, that's for sure. And there's been a change in the program for the next Olympics."
"Really," I said. "What change?"
"Everyone will shoot a double F.I.T.A. round, and those scores will be used to narrow the field to 24. Then there will be four rounds, each involving 1/4 of a single F.I.T.A. round, at all four distances. Each round will narrow the field, first to 18, then 12, then 8. Scores don't carry forward; winning the third round does you no more good than coming in 8th-you move to the final round. The last round, with eight archers, determines the winner, without regard to scores in the earlier rounds."
I said, "That means you have to be very consistent over all five rounds. A single bad round and you're out, right?"
"Right. You can be first in the first four rounds and 4th in the last, and you don't get a medal."
"Well, I'm not sure that I think that's better, but you have to play the game as it's presented. Will qualification in the Trials be the same way?"
"That isn't settled yet. But under the new rules, the United States is given three slots, because of its prior records and the fact that the current World Champion is American. But his slot is his, so only two slots are competed for at the Trials."
"Interesting. That's new as well. It used to be that being champion got you an invitation to the Trials, but that was it."
Tim said, "Well, I can't comment on the new rules, but I can tell you this: If you want to achieve consistency you need extraordinary dedication with long hours of practice, and you need to work on your concentration."
I said, "I'm not sure you ever want to go through his concentration lesson."
Tim went on, "Don't pay any attention to Charlie. The lesson that worked on him wouldn't be right for you. In your case I think we need to take a different approach."
"What's that?" asked Jimmy.
"You're a pretty good hunter, right?"
"I guess so."
"Well, I hear you get your deer every year; that's good hunting."
"I know for a fact that you can't successfully hunt anything without serious concentration. Talk to a fellow hunter; look away at just the moment a deer shows, make noise you shouldn't-any of those things and you lose your shot. Do it regularly and no deer that season. Am I right?"
"Well, I'm just pointing out that you are capable of the concentration necessary and have demonstrated it consistently over the years. All you need to do is transfer that to your target shooting."
"What do you mean?"
"Simply this. When you're target shooting, what do you do between arrows?"
"Relax, maybe sit a minute."
"Talk to another shooter, maybe?"
"And that breaks your concentration. You need to approach each session like a hunt in the woods. No breaks until you have at least finished the round; better no breaks in your concentration for at least an hour of shooting."
"Target shooting doesn't work that way. Relaxing between arrows is important."
"I'm not talking about not relaxing; that has to do with your muscles. I'm talking about your mind. You have to keep focused."
"I'm not sure."
"Charlie, help me out here."
"All I can tell you, Jimmy, is that when I took the matter of concentration seriously I became an Olympic archer. Without Tim's lesson, and his insistence on its importance, I would never have marched in the Mexico Olympics. Instead I set the Olympic record, and it stood for 16 years."
Tim said, "If you're practicing correctly, your coach and his girlfriend should be able to have sex on the ground ten feet in front of you and you shouldn't notice."
"No, you get real. That's what it takes to win an Olympic medal. That and a serious practice regime. Now go for it. I'd love to have you with us in Seoul."
"What do you mean, 'With us'?"
"Several of my good friends are going to be competing in Seoul. I suspect that there will be a group of fifty or sixty of us going to Seoul. Jimmy, I really hope that you'll be with us. Come see either Charlie or me anytime you need help or support. I mean it."
Mike Federer called me up about a week later. "Charlie, what did you guys do to Jimmy Keelson?"
"Why? What's happened?"
"He didn't show up for practice for a couple of days after your visit. We were worried that you'd scared him off. The third day he showed up, with a serious demeanor like we had never seen before. He hardly spoke to us. I asked him where he'd been the last couple of days, and he said he'd been thinking about what you two had said about the Olympics, trying to decide what to do. Then he said, in a rather determined voice, 'I'm going to Seoul.' He's hardly said a word to anybody on the range since. He practices like a fiend. And he's shooting much better. In his word, one of few he's used, 'Consistency.' What did you guys do to him?"
"Tim can be quite a motivator, but I really didn't think we'd done that much. Tim did talk to him about concentration, and evidently the lesson took. When you're listening to Tim you can't help but realize that he knows what he's talking about. I guess Jimmy listened."
"Well, it's too soon to tell how it'll turn out, but it sure looks good right now. The club would love to have it's second Olympic archer. We're still pretty proud of you. We all claim bragging rights, you know."
The last Olympic hopeful in Grand Forks was a high school senior at Central High School by the name of Bernie Frederickson. Jim had asked Larry and Tim to come and watch him several times over the years, and the three of them had arranged for him to be in several regional meets as well as Nationals the previous summer. Bernie was simply put together oddly. His back and shoulders were misshapen. But they were perfectly suited to the butterfly stroke. Bernie could swim a butterfly at speeds that left the rest of the pack in the dust-if you'll pardon a rather odd metaphor. He'd been beaten in the Nationals the previous summer by Matt Biondi in the 100 meter butterfly and by an unknown Canadian in the 200 meter. However, two seconds were all he needed to be invited to the Olympic Trials and he was eager to be on his way. Jim, of course, told him to spend some time with Tim if he was serious about the Olympics, and he joined Tim and me for dinner one evening. Larry joined us as well.
During dinner Tim asked, "I've been trying to remember the name of a young swimmer at UND when I was a student here. He was really good at the butterfly. It seems to me it was Karl something. I remember we led off the meet we had with Indiana University with the butterfly because this kid was so good. He was like you, Bernie, his shoulders were perfectly suited to the odd movements required by the butterfly."
Bernie listened and smiled. "That was Karl Fredrickson; he's my dad."
Tim said, "You can't be Karl's son. You're too young. Let's see, that must've been 1967 or 1968. That's only twenty years ago."
Bernie smiled and said, "1968. I was an accident the next year. Mom was another swimmer on the team. They got married well before I arrived, so there was no scandal or gossip. But they both had to quit the swim team in order to have time to take care of me. They stayed on in Grand Forks after they graduated. They're both elementary teachers. I inherited Dad's shoulders, and I hope to make it to the Olympics and win a medal for him. If it hadn't been for me, I think he would've made it himself. He wasn't quite good enough his freshman year, 1968; and couldn't continue after that."
"You're dad wasn't good enough in his freshman year of college, but you hope to go as a high school senior?"
"I've known of Dad's Olympic dream since I was about twelve years old. I've been practicing hard since then."
Tim said, "Well, there are a lot of reasons to want to win an Olympic medal, Bernie. I think you have one of the best. You know, Charlie won two Olympic medals because of his love for me. Love for your Dad is just as powerful."
There you have it. Hal, Jody, Murray, Jimmy and Bernie. All Olympic hopefuls from Grand Forks. Three were members of the Gang, the other two would get just as much support from the entire Gang. We all took the Olympics seriously and were seriously committed to helping these five young men make it to Seoul. Our biggest regret? Where were the women? But you can't manufacture Olympic hopefuls, and, this year at least, Grand Forks would produce no women Olympians.
And that's where matters stood as the Gang gathered at The Hideout for New Year's Eve. We invited Jimmy, Bernie and their families to join us, and all of the kids were invited as well. Everyone came, as least for a few minutes, but a few had other commitments that pulled them away for the midnight hour. Billy, Sara, Willie, and Bob joined us as well. Willie had come directly from Iron River and was with Tim and me when we picked up his family at the airport. They had seen him a couple of times during the fall-once at a swim meet in Chicago that Coach Wilson had taken him to in order to keep him ranked nationally-and once when they had visited Iron River. They all greeted each other like long lost buddies-everybody hugged and kissed everybody, including Tim and me. It was sweet to see Bob and Willie greet each other, when they kissed it was very clear that they had truly missed each other.
At The Hideout on New Year's Eve Franklin announced the arrival of, not the New Year, but the XXIV Olympiad. Everybody cheered, and Tim asked the five Olympic hopefuls to stand and be recognized. Except for Hal, they would all be heading for their first Olympics. As far as Tim and I were concerned, you can never replicate your first Olympic experience. We hoped these young men would have as good a time as Tim and I did. As for Hal, we knew he'd have a good run, and a good time, regardless of what kind of medal he got, or even whether he got a medal. I was quite sure then, and I still am, that Hal would rather have finished fourth to Jody's third than to have won a medal himself and Jody not get one.
How quickly things change!
Billy came by Dakota House about nine the next morning. I had persuaded Tim that he really didn't want to dive or exercise on New Year's Day morning. So he and I were just finishing a leisurely breakfast; it was only as late as it was because I distracted Tim with "other things" before breakfast.
Billy joined us for orange juice at the breakfast table and told us that he had gotten a call from Coach Wilson in Iron River earlier that morning.
"What on earth did he want so early this morning?"
"He wanted to talk about Willie."
"What about Willie?"
"Harry thinks that Willie is good enough to go to the Olympics this year."
"He's in ninth grade. What, is he fourteen, maybe fifteen?"
"He's fourteen, and with an October birthday, he'll still be fourteen in Seoul, but almost fifteen."
"So why is Harry springing this on you now?"
"He said he's had it in mind for a while, but thought that Willie should get settled in in Iron River before he started thinking about Seoul. He chose New Year's because he didn't want to interfere with our family Christmas. He figures that we have enough time to talk now."
Billy continued, "I don't believe Harry is pulling this right now. He's a good coach; Willie sensed that right away; that's why he wanted to go to school in Iron River. But he could have warned us a little."
"So how much warning did you give him that he might get to coach the world's best high school diver?"
"Not much, I'll admit. So where do we go from here?"
Tim said, "Well, I am sure that Harry talked to you before he talked to Willie. So you have to decide whether you want to share this idea with Willie and encourage him. I'll bet any amount of money that Willie will be Hell bent for Seoul if it is mentioned to him. So saying anything, anything at all, means you are in for the long haul-at least until he misses some qualification mark."
"You're right. Hell, Tim, the only reason you didn't go to the Olympics in high school was Charlie couldn't go with you."
"Don't start that," I said.
"But I was a senior; Willie's a freshman."
"That's random luck. You get one shot in high school and one shot in college. I can't deny Willie that shot, if he wants it."
"He'll want it."
"Of course. So where do we go from here?"
Tim said, "Get him over here. We'll give him today to prepare a show for us. If he can convince us this evening that he's ready for Olympic competition, we back him fully."
"What can he accomplish in one day?" I asked.
"We'll see," said Tim. "Call him and get him over here. He's staying with Junior at Hal's, right?"
"I'll call Larry and Bess and see if they are available to work with him today. I am sure they will be excited for the opportunity."
Willie soon arrived, not having a clue what was up. Coach Wilson had never even hinted at the idea of his going to the Olympics this year. Tim simply said, "OK, Willie. Coach Wilson thinks you can make the Olympic Diving Team this year and go to Seoul."
"Yes. Would you like to try for that?"
"Oh, God, yes."
"OK, here's the deal. Your father and I want to see how good you are. I've got a list of ten dives here, from moderate difficulty to the most difficult. By five o'clock tonight your dad and I want to see what you can do with these. Larry and Bess are heading to the pool now; Charlie is going to drive you over as soon as you're ready."
I drove him over, listening to the excited prattle of a young teenager eagerly anticipating the highlight of his life so far. I hoped he would settle down enough to make good use of the day and impress his father and uncle. By the time we got to the pool he had calmed down, and was ready to go to work. I let him out, a young boy about to become a man.
Tim invited the world to come and see Willie at 5:00 p.m. in the University Natatorium. The whole Gang; Jimmy and Bernie and their families; the university diving teams-those that were in town; and another dozen or so friends, athletes, and colleagues. I said, "Nothing like a little pressure for the kid."
"Exactly right. If he can't handle it, he can't handle the Olympic Trials, so why bother? This is a test. I think he can handle the whole thing or I wouldn't be putting it to him. But the Trials are in just a few months; if he isn't ready now he isn't going to be in April."
Tim and I headed over to the natatorium about 4:30. Willie was just finishing up his practice and headed down to take a nice long, warm shower, before showtime. Tim asked Larry how he was doing.
"I don't want to spoil Willie's fun, but be prepared. I'll tell you more after the show."
"Remember Tim? Your freshman show. That's the closest thing that I can think of to what you're about to see."
Tim and I looked at each other, shrugged, and headed for front row seats. As five o'clock approached, the seats filled. I think there must have been close to a hundred people present. Nobody really knew what to expect.
At exactly five o'clock the door burst open and Willie ran into the pool area, doing a racing dive into the racing pool, which was about fifteen feet away from the diving pool. He swam, raced really, up and back, and then back up to the platform between the two pools. When he hit the side he vaulted out so smoothly you would have thought he had come up a ladder. He said to the crowd, "Welcome. I had no idea who would be here this evening; I was told to put on a show for my dad, Billy Carson, and my uncle, Dr. Tim. So you will have to pardon me if I ignore the rest of you, and simply perform for Billy and Tim."
With that he did a flip from the side of the diving pool and swam across to where divers normally exit. He was up and out and headed up the ladder to the ten meter platform in an instant. His motions were all choreographed: up the ladder, cross the platform, take the correct position, and dive into the water. He would stay underwater for a short time and then push off the bottom so that he flashed out of the water near the ladder and was out and up the ladder to the springboard in an instant. He alternated from platform to springboard and back for sixteen progressively more difficult dives. Tim's list had all been for the platform, which was his stronger event. Willie had taken a couple of the middle difficulty dives off the list and then created a list of eight dives for the springboard, as difficult or more so than the list for the platform.
He sailed through the sixteen dives at the rate of one dive every minute and a half. He was done at exactly 5:30, when the trademark Tim/Billy cannonball from the 10 meter platform hit the pool. It would now be the trademark Tim/Billy/Willie cannonball.
How good were his dives? It was, after all, the quality of the dives and not the showy performance, or the incredible timing, that would get him to Seoul. We'll, I'm not an expert. But they looked perfect to me. They were near enough to perfect that Billy and Tim, along with Larry and Bess, were hugging Willie and singing, "Seoul, Korea, Here We Come," to the tune of "California, Here I Come."
After Billy and Tim had gotten up to go hug Willie, Sara remained, now sitting beside me. She was softly crying. I said, "Tears of happiness, I hope?"
"Well, yes, Charlie, but sadness as well. My little boy is gone. At age fourteen I have a grown man in the family. He doesn't even live at home; he lives in Iron River because the best high school diving coach in America happens to be there; at least that is what Willie thinks. After seeing that show, do you doubt it?"
I said, "You know, Sara, Tim went from being a boy to a man at about the same age. He did live at home, that's true. But his relationship to his parents changed. They became equals, friends, colleagues. Tim and Norman and Betsy, and Carl too, have maintained that relationship till now. You are going to miss some of the childhood that some parents cherish (however, for many the teen years are a nightmare), but in return you are going to get a lifelong friendship with a wonderful man, Willie Carson. Treasure that."
"Thank you, Charlie. I think I needed that. And you're right. But even if you weren't, Willie is what he is. And it's quite phenomenal, isn't it?" With that she got up, walked over to Willie, took him in her arms and kissed him lovingly. He responded by melting into her arms. She was only half right; she hadn't completely lost her little boy. There would be moments like this for a long time to come.
Fred had arranged for a buffet dinner to be served poolside right after the show. He'd gotten Jerry to call a couple of caterers that he knew and convinced them to get out of bed after their New Year's Eve gigs and fix a simple meal of sloppy joes, toss salad, tuna salad, chips, and a variety of soft drinks. They had been told to have everything ready by 5:00 so that they could watch the show. There were also told that they could count on plenty of people to be available to carry the food and drinks in and set them up. All was ready and covered with a plastic cloth by 5:00, and they watched Willie with the rest of us. They had been warned to keep the table back a ways, so that it wouldn't be soaked with a big splash, and they had done that. As soon as the big splash hit, they uncovered the table and invited everyone to eat. We did.
As we ate, Tim and I talked with Larry and Bess. Billy had walked into the natatorium that morning a man in control. The first thing he wanted was for Larry and Bess to help him work with Tim's list of dives to make it cover the springboard as well as the platform. After a little go around about whether he didn't want to stick with his better event, Larry and Bess had decided to just follow the leader. They worked together to work out the timing, the swimming at the beginning, the dive order, and the like. Then they worked on each individual dive. They came to one off the springboard that Willie really wasn't very familiar with. "Larry, I don't think I've done this one more than a couple of times."
Larry had suggested inserting a different dive, but Willie would have none of it. He talked to Bess a little about the dive and then went up onto the springboard. He stood at the end of the board for a while, sometimes looking down, sometimes out. Then he moved to the back end of the board where the dive would start and stood there a while. Larry said, "I think he must have spent ten to fifteen minutes in deep concentration on that board. Then he took the start position, and stepped into the dive. It wasn't perfect, but it was damn good. Four more tries and it was really quite good. I asked him what he had been doing up there."
"Oh, Larry, I was going through the dive in my mind, about twenty times or so. I know how long it takes me to hit the water, so as I work through the dive, I can figure whether my timing is right to hit the water perfectly. It's much better to hit a belly flop in your mind than to hit real water. After I screwed the dive up about a dozen times I began to get it right. By the time I actually left the board I was pretty good at it."
Larry asked us, "Do you believe that? I wouldn't have if I hadn't seen the result. You saw him dive later; could you pick out which dive he had almost no experience with before today?"
I said, "Willie is a natural. He's going to be a sensation at the Trials, not to mention Seoul. But what does he need to do to get an invitation to the Trials?"
Larry said, "He needs one major meet in which he comes in in the top four. That will guarantee an invitation. If he's not in the top four, he's going to have to go to several meets in order to assure an invitation."
Bess said, "Are you ready for this?
"I suggest the Australia Open in Sydney."
"Why on earth?"
"The timing is right. He'd love the trip, and it would make it very special. He needs to absorb the specialness of his situation very quickly, so that he can rise above it. By the time he gets to the Trials his whole situation has to seem old hat to him. Australia will be great for him."
Well, where do you think Willie spent the last ten days of January?
Sydney, of course. And he came in third on the springboard and second off the platform. Willie was launched as the next diving phenom. It remained to be seen whether he had both the skill and the emotional strength to handle it all, at age fourteen. We all looked at his dad and uncle and decided that he did.
So now the hopefuls numbered six.
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