As the games drew to a close and we began thinking about the closing ceremony and our long trip home, Harry Wilson approached me. "Charlie, I just got a call from Governor James Blanchard."
"The Governor of Michigan, I assume."
"Congratulations, all that sort of thing?"
"Much more specific. He wants to organize a grand homecoming for the two Michigan medalists: Willie and Murray."
"Wow. North Dakota is going to try to claim both of them, and Indiana will get in on the act for Willie."
"I know. But Willie goes to school in Iron River, and Murray graduated from high school in Ironwood. Michigan has a pretty strong claim, not to exclude the others. A lot of young people are claimed by multiple states. But having two medalists from the UP is pretty special. Blanchard became Governor on January first, 1983, the first Democratic governor in 22 years. He wants to put on a big show. It's hard for the Lansing crew to make much of a dent in the UP and this is a chance. He's going to take it."
"What does he have in mind?"
"He wants me and the boys to fly home through Toronto and Sault Ste. Marie. Then we'll enter the United Stated directly into Michigan. He'll have a welcome ceremony right on the International Bridge, and then a car caravan the length and breadth of the UP. It'll take two days."
"Good grief. That'll sure swell the heads of two boys I know of."
"They both can handle it."
"Yes, I think they can. My guess is that Tim's going to want to have some kind of a big welcome for all six of the medalists in our group. Certainly he'll want to do that in Grand Forks, and I'm sure that he's assuming that they'll all fly home together, via Minneapolis."
"This could all get pretty complicated. It's going to be very unpolitic to not go along with our governor."
"Let's talk to Tim and see what he thinks. Come on, I'll think we'll find him in the hotel lobby."
Tim's reaction was that there'd have to be great homecoming ceremonies in both the UP and Grand Forks. He continued, "Blanchard's idea of greeting them on the bridge is sweet. There's no way that would work for North Dakota, so we need to let him do his thing. When?"
"He's thinking of Tuesday after the games. He wants to take two days, so that would be Tuesday and Wednesday. The boys would fly home on Monday, overnight in Toronto, fly to Sault Ste. Marie early Tuesday and be greeted on the bridge about 10:00 a.m."
Tim said, "OK, on Thursday they'll fly to Minneapolis and join the rest of the group. That group can take a couple of days off in Hawaii on the way home to get their timing right."
"That would mean that we have to change every single airline reservation, on planes that're already jammed full."
"Talk to Fred; I don't know how he does it, but he seems to be able to pull that sort of thing off."
Fred's reaction was typical. "Let me take care of it." He did. The group was scheduled to fly out of Korea on Monday morning, changing in Japan to Northwest Airlines. Fred called the head of sales at Northwest Airlines, a contact he made through a mutual friend. His bargain was simple: They could sell the tickets he held, which were in high demand at good prices. In exchange, Fred wanted a hundred seats to Honolulu on Monday, and on to Minneapolis on Thursday. Northwest could create that many seats by flying a 747 on the route. Fred was sure that they could switch planes around to take care of that. They could. And Fred noted that they made a pile of money on the deal, because the seats sold at the last minute from Tokyo for top dollar-which Fred hadn't paid. Only Fred has the balls to pull off something like that. It also helped that Fred's Sports buys a lot of airline tickets from Northwest.
Gov. Blanchard wanted Paul-the only other UP summer Olympic medal winner in history-to be with Murray and Willie, along with Harry Wilson and Willie's parents and grandparents. He got Hardie and his mother, Tim and me, and the team of Stanley, Jeff, and Dick as well.
The governor had the same gift for staging an event that Tim did. He may even have outdone Tim in arranging the hero's welcome that the state gave Willie and Murray-only the second and third summer Olympic medalists to come from the UP. Paul had been the first, and could claim to be a native Yooper. His early days had been in Hurley, but he'd been born in the hospital in Ironwood. Murray was a native as well, having grown up in Ironwood. Willie, on the other hand, was an import, but he was living in the UP and attending high school there. That was enough for him to be claimed as a genuine Yooper, especially if you were looking for an excuse to have a celebration.
We flew from Seoul to Tokyo with the whole Gang and hangers on. As we boarded our flight for Toronto, the rest boarded theirs for Hawaii. Our flight left Tokyo about eight in the evening on Monday, flying the polar route-though it only took us just north of Alaska. We arrived in Toronto about eight in the evening on Monday-a neat trick if you can pull it off. Northwest could, because of the International Date Line. We went straight to a hotel near the Toronto airport and slept the troubled sleep of the timezone traveler. We hoped we'd hold up for the next two days of excitement.
We got up early the next morning (Tuesday), ready to board a 7:30 flight to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, arriving at 9:03. We were met by the mayor who escorted us on a bus to the Canadian side of the International Bridge. There was a small crowd gathered at the Ontario end of the bridge, and the mayor spoke a couple of minutes, thanking us for visiting his city, if only briefly. Willie appointed himself spokesperson for the three Olympians and told the group that the Yoopers over on the other side had great love and respect for their sister city in Canada, and he was glad to visit, and not for the first time. He may have been self-appointed, but he said the right things and got a good reception. Then we were taken to Canadian Customs and Immigration where our passports were stamped and we were bid farewell. It was now five minutes of ten, and the authorities were in the process of closing the bridge to traffic. At ten we walked to the middle of the International Bridge and were greeted at the exact border by the Chief U.S. Immigration Officer at the Sault Ste. Marie station. The three Olympians, Paul, Murray, and Willie, handed over their passports, which were duly stamped and signed by the Chief. While the three were being processed in a very public ceremony, which was shown live on television in both Sault Ste. Maries, the rest of us had our passports stamped at a table off to the side.
Then we all walked toward the Michigan end of the bridge and were formally greeted by Gov. Blanchard, who directed us to a large platform in front of a crowd of about five to six hundred people. At this point we cleared the bridge and it was reopened to traffic, having been closed for about twenty minutes. Before the three Olympians could mount the platform, they were directed to a temporary customs table. They handed over their customs declarations and each put his suitcase on the table.
I should note that Fred had told each of them to pack one small suitcase that would be appropriate for this ceremony. The rest of their luggage was gathered in a van with that of the rest of us in the group. It was passed through customs later.
The three suitcases were opened in turn, beginning with Murray's. The only thing found of interest was Murray's silver medal, which the inspector draped around his neck. Next came Willie, whose silver and bronze medals were duly "found" and draped around his neck. This had all been planned in advance, and the boys had carefully put the medals where they could be easily found. Then the inspector asked Paul to open his suitcase. Paul did, having absolutely no idea what would happen next. The inspector reached in, rummaged around, and out came Paul's gold medal from twenty years earlier. Paul stood dumbfounded as the medal was draped around his neck. He mumbled quietly to the inspector, "Where did that come from?"
The inspector whispered back, "Your suitcase. I was told it'd be in there."
Paul learned later that Gov. Blanchard and Fred had cooked up the whole scheme. Fred had asked Amanda who would have a key to their house, and she told him that one of the neighbors did. She called the neighbor and told her it'd be all right to go in and find the medal. A State Police Officer had come by, gone in with her, and taken the medal, which was shipped by Express Mail to Toronto, in care of the Northwest Airlines station manager. He delivered it to me and I managed to get it into Paul's suitcase as it was taken to the van, which took us to the airport.
As soon as the three had cleared U.S. Customs in ceremony, the real shebang started. The Governor, Mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, the Governor's Administrative Assistant for the Upper Peninsula, and the President of the Chamber of Commerce all spoke. Amazingly they all, with the exception of the governor, kept their remarks extremely brief. The governor spoke about ten minutes, and considering how long some politicians can speak, that was pretty good. Then it was Tim's turn. Gov. Blanchard knew a winner when he saw one, and getting Tim involved in the proceedings was an added bonus for him. Tim decided that this was the time to blow Stanley's horn and he told a couple of stories of Camp White Elk, suggesting that the total number of medals won by Camp White Elk campers and staff should really be credited to the UP, not just the medals of these three. Then he pointed out that that number was an incredible 25. (For those of you counting, its Tim 18, Hal 4, Charlie 2, and Jim 1.) Then he went on to say, "It's great to be from the north. You folks over here have your Great Lakes and we over in North Dakota have our Great Plains. We all laugh together as the folks south of us slosh through slush in the winter and sweat through the humidity in the summer. But we're here to celebrate this year's Olympians, not those of yesteryear. So here's Willie Carson."
Tim and I were eager to hear Willie speak. It was Willie the man, not Willie the boy. His voice was firm, his manner friendly, not haughty. He looked at the crowd-I'd guess half the people of Sault Ste. Marie-and spoke. "What can a fourteen year old kid say in a situation like this? I'd better start with, 'Thank You,' because I truly understand that there's no way that I'd ever have even gotten to the Olympics if it hadn't been for the wonderful people of the Upper Peninsula. Yoopers took me in a year ago, a foreigner from Indiana, and made me welcome. You supported me at every move. The people in Iron River, where I went to school, explained to me that the UP is a special place, and that they were welcoming me to that special place on behalf of every Yooper-all of whom would welcome me personally if they got the chance. It's been a wonderful year. I want you to meet June Hassett, my surrogate mother this year. And Coach Harry Wilson, who created the diving program at West Iron County High School and made me an Olympian. I had to learn two new words: I became a Yooper and a Wycon. I haven't even tried to explain either of those to my friends back in Indiana. Korea was fun, it was a special experience to participate in the Olympic Games. Now it's good to be home, in the U.S., the UP and soon back in Iron River. Gee whiz, next week I'm expected to be back in school with all the other Wycons. Thank You."
He'd written it himself. Memorized it. And all of us were hearing it for the first time. Tim's speechwriters back in Grand Forks couldn't have done any better. If there were any doubts about his being accepted in the UP that speech put them to rest. And, the kid knew when to shut up-a talent that few speakers ever master!
Then it was Murray's turn. Murray had a complicated situation. Despite a certain level of reconciliation with his parents, he hadn't felt comfortable suggesting to Fred that they be included in the Seoul trip-though he knew that Fred would've been happy to invite them. They were present there in Sault Ste. Marie. He knew it was growing up with them that made him a Yooper. But he decided he had to deal with the reality of his life. He introduced Big Paul as his coach and surrogate father in high school. He said that Paul had provided him love and support at a time in his life that he critically needed it. And not only that, he was one heck of a coach and wrestler. He described his practice matches with Paul and said, "I knew that if I could hold my own against Big Paul that I could hold my own in the Olympics."
The local high school band played, the cheerleaders cheered, the audience roared approval of everything, and then the car cavalcade was off, but not very far. The first stop was the local high school, where we were welcomed by the principal and a huge buffet breakfast was laid out for us, and everybody else following along behind the cavalcade. We ate quickly and then we really were off.
The Cavalcade was led by a bright red 1959 Cadillac convertible with the biggest damn tailfins you can imagine. Willie rode in the back seat with Paul on one side and Murray on the other. Gov. Blanchard was in the front seat next to the driver, a state patrol officer assigned to the governor. There were an additional ten cars that would follow along for the next two days, carrying the governor's party, Tim and me, and the rest that had come from Seoul, and several others, not all of which I ever really met. Another fifty or so cars followed us out of town, and slowly dropped out of the parade. About ten hung on till the next stop, St. Ignace.
We were headed to Iron River, which should've been a five hour trip. Governor Blanchard was going to make it into a two day trip. We moved slowly down the highway, waving to people along the route which had been shown in every newspaper in the UP the day before. Where there was any kind of crowd, we'd stop, chat a minute, shake hands, Willie, Murray, and Paul would sign autographs, and we'd be off. The first planned stop was St. Ignace at the north end of the Mackinac Bridge. Willie and Murray got the keys to the city from the Mayor, the governor made his same speech, as did Willie and Murray. The band played, the cheerleaders cheered. Everyone was toasted with Michigan cherry juice, and we were on our way to Manistique on the north end of Lake Michigan. Same speeches, same cheering, lunch with the Mayor and other dignitaries, more autographs, more hand shaking, and we were off to Escanaba, also on Lake Michigan. Same routine. Then to Marquette, back on Lake Superior. We overnighted in Marquette-simply add dinner to everything else we'd done in every town.
The next morning the cavalcade left town with little fuss, heading to Ishpeming, the first town we'd stopped at that wasn't sitting right on one of the Great Lakes. It seemed like the whole town of Ishpeming turned out for a huge breakfast in the high school cafeteria and gymnasium. As we arrived we were greeted by the high school band and introduced to the only rock I've ever seen as a sports team mascot. It being mining country, the high school sports teams were the Hematites!
Then off to L'Anse, Ontonogan for lunch, and Ironwood. In Ironwood Paul was asked to be the emcee for the celebration. He introduced Gov. Blanchard and then Willie and Murray. He also got a chance to speak himself, and thank Ironwood for their support over the years. The one non-Michigan group to join in our celebration was the Drum and Bugle Corps from Hurley High School. They were a big group, with drummers, buglers, twirlers, and flag carriers that seemed to go on forever. My God, they were good! The drummers seemed able to bounce us out of our seats, the bugles played melodies that'd be the envy of a complete band, the twirlers sent their batons higher than the buildings-and always caught them, and the flagers looked as good as any Korean flag ensemble we'd seen in Seoul. Their fame had spread far and wide in Wisconsin and throughout the UP. They were the pride of Hurley, and of Ironwood, its twin town in Michigan.
Murray's parents were there along with Toppy's mother. They had a brief reunion, and the three of them decided to ride along with the cavalcade to Iron River, our last stop. We arrived in Iron River about 4:00 in the afternoon. The town was ready for us, having gotten telephone calls from people along our route almost every mile from Ironwood. The cavalcade went directly to the high school and drove right to the 50-yard line of the stadium. I think everyone in town was there to greet Willie (Murray was an afterthought, as was Paul, but they were cheered as well). Willie, Murray and Paul rode in sitting on the seat back of the Caddie convertible, waving and smiling. This was the biggest audience they'd had since the Closing Ceremony in Seoul, and this was for the three of them, not several thousand athletes sharing the limelight!
As soon as the first car entered the stadium the band began playing the Wycon Fight Song, which they did very well, and then the Olympic Fanfare and Theme, which they didn't-having had only a few days warning that they'd be playing it. The school hadn't sent its sophomore diver off to the Olympics expecting him to return with two medals. The band shifted to a pop song which they performed very well, and it was very well received by the audience. Personally, I preferred a poorly done version of the Olympic music. The speeches were longer, but the audience was very forgiving. They rose as one as Willie came to the podium to speak. He gave an expanded version of his set speech, this one becoming very personal as he spoke about the welcome that he'd received at the West Iron County High School. His best line was when he asked, "Have you ever tried to explain to a foreigner, that is a non-Yooper, what a Wycon is? Well, try it in Korea." Then he brought Hardie and June Hassett to the podium and personally and publicly thanked them for all they'd done for him during the past year. Coach Wilson got his own recognition. Then he invited Murray and Paul to the podium. He reminded the audience that nothing had changed for Paul, he was still the only gold medal winner the UP had ever produced. This got a great cheer. The he told the crowd that he and Murray had been roommates in the Olympic Village, and that without Murray's love and support he would never have won a medal. Murray took the microphone, thanked one and all, and assured everyone that without Willie's love and support he would also have been medalless.
It was time to eat. Feeding large crowds seemed to be a speciality of the UP, but this was spectacular. It was a potluck dinner for 2,000. There were tables all around the edge of the field, all piled high with food that people had brought to the stadium and put on the tables as they came in. Everyone had brought their own paper plates, utensils, and drinks. The three Olympians were invited to the tables first, but as soon as their plates were filled, the crowd started digging in. In twenty minutes everyone had a plateful and the tables were virtually bare! Willie ate virtually instantly and then was off to where the band was eating, talking to each of them and thanking them for being there. He would've of thanked every student in the school if he could've found them, but they were spread all over the stadium. Hell, he would've thanked the whole town personally if he'd had the time. But with the ending of daylight the temperature dropped and people began heading home. Willie's two days of excitement were over. He was driven home in the Caddie with June and Hardie. Murray, Paul, and the rest of us headed to homes in the community where it'd been arranged for us to stay the night. At 9:30 the next morning we had to board an airplane for Duluth, there to change to a flight to Minneapolis, there to spend the night, ready to meet the rest of the group that was flying in from Hawaii. We all (but one) spent the night in a hotel near the airport and were briefed on the next day's grand welcome home, this one staged by Tim. The one was Toppy, who was whisked off in a university car for a quick overnight trip to Grand Forks to be a part of the next day's airport welcome.
Tim had, in fact, had to stage the whole thing by long distance, because he was in the party traveling with Willie and Murray. He called Mary Robbins, who directed the Alumni Office, and asked her to be in charge of the welcome ceremony that was to be scheduled for Friday. The entire party flew on a charter flight-arranged by Fred, of course-from Minneapolis directly to Grand Forks. The plane landed and was directed to a special VIP section of the airport. Well, this isn't Washington National. The VIP area was a section about a quarter mile from the gate area where a crowd could collect and not block airport operations. However, this crowd was so big, with so many cars, that there wasn't a question of blocking airport operations. Our plane pulled up, steps were rolled up, the door opened, and out popped Tim. He trotted down the stairs as someone in the plane pulled the door shut behind him. Down on the tarmac was a group of welcoming dignitaries and Tim joined them. Then he signaled to the combined bands of UND, Central High School and Red River High School to begin playing. Out came Toppy, in his old UND Drum Major costume to lead the bands. He climbed the podium in front of the bands and the Olympic Fanfare and Theme was never played better, or more loudly. The minute the trumpets began the door of the plane opened and out came the six 1988 Olympians. They marched down the stairs and across a red carpet to a central point between plane, bands, and the low dias on which the greeting dignitaries stood. When the band ended, Tim, who in events like this always managed to upstage the other dignitaries, including mayor, governor, senators and representative, introduced each Olympian, and recited their medal history: Hal, 1968-marathon gold; 1972-marathon silver; 1976-marathon silver; 1988-marathon bronze. Willie, 1988-diving silver and bronze. Bernie, 1988-swimming gold and two bronze. Jimmy, 1988-archery gold and silver. Murray, 1988-wrestling silver. Jody, 1988-marathon gold. As this was going on, all of the rest of us on the plane quietly came down the stairs and stood in front of the plane. Then Tim proceeded to introduce all of the other Olympic medal winners present. As he spoke our names, we walked up front and joined the six from the current year. It was an impressive group: Paul, 1968-wrestling gold. Jim, 1968-wrestling silver. Billy, 1968-diving silver and bronze; 1972-diving 2 gold; 1976-diving 2 gold. Stan, 1968-diving bronze. Judy, 1976-diving silver and bronze. Charlie, 1968-archery gold; 1972-archery silver. Marty, 1972-wrestling gold. Fyn, 1984-diving bronze. Arnie, 1984-diving bronze.
Then I stepped out from the group and went to a microphone and introduced Tim, the man who needed no introduction. But his Olympic medal history droned on: Tim, 1968-diving 2 gold, gymnastics 4 gold, a silver, 2 bronze; 1972-gymnastics 3 gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze; 1976-gymnastics silver. Then I also reminded the audience of James, who'd spent the summer of 1968 at UND preparing for the Olympics with Tim, Billy, and Stan. James, 1968-diving silver. The total medal count for this group of persons connected in some way with the University of North Dakota or the State of North Dakota was staggering: 20 gold medals, 14 silver medals, and 14 bronze medals for a total of 48 Olympic medals. The people standing on the tarmac of the airport claimed all of those but one: James had been contacted by Mary Robbins, but couldn't make the trip.
While this was a pretty big do, it was time to head to the main ceremony on campus. Notice how Tim keeps these things centered on the university? He's no fool, and he realizes that blowing the university's horn is a very important part of his job. The fact that this was timed to be used live on the evening news on the east coast wasn't an accident. Nor were the local television cameras that would enable that.
The airport festivities were held about noon and only took about a half hour. The program on campus was scheduled for 4:30 in the field house. The most photogenic stuff would be between 5:00 and 5:30, which is between 6:00 and 6:30 in the East. The band played the UND fight song (something that Tim did not want on national news), we had speeches from the governor and two senators. The mayor got to talk. At 5:05 Tim spoke. His theme was very simple: only a great university could produce this array of outstanding Olympic athletes. He introduced them one by one, beginning with the current year crop, and ending with me. In each case he described their connection to the university. Honor graduates were pointed out. Special achievements were described. The role of the university, as an institution and as a community, was lauded. Then he turned the microphone over to me and I gave a similar description of Tim, focusing on his Olympic achievements. Then Murray was invited to introduce his partner, Toppy, who led the combined bands in a fantastic rendition of "The Called the Wind Mariah" following by the Olympic Fanfare and Theme. Toppy was, if you'll pardon the pun, over the top with his drum major antics, leaving the actual conducting of the bands to the Red River High Drum Major for the first number and the Central High Drum Major for the second. Toppy put on a show that only Tim could top, and Tim didn't have a high bar or set of rings available. The newscasts featured the pictures of the Olympians, with this year's six in front, Toppy doing flips as the band played, and Tim pledging love and support to athletes, musicians, academics, and all others who would venture into windy, but loving, North Dakota for an education. Much of it was repeated in sportscasts all evening, and it made the Today show the next morning, with Tim interviewed long distance in the local TV studio.
As the next day progressed things began to settle down. Hardie, his mom, Coach Wilson and Willie headed for Iron River. Paul and Amanda headed for Ironwood. Stanley, Jeff, and Dick headed for Detroit. Billy, Sara and Bob headed for Indianapolis. Billy carried with him a job offer to succeed Larry as the Director of Aquatics at UND, effective the next fall when Larry would be retiring. Tim knew that it would be a tough decision for Billy. He was on the fast track for the same position at Indiana University, a much more prestigious position, and-despite UND's successes-one where he'd be coaching many more Olympic level swimmers and divers. But the Gang was in North Dakota. Tim hadn't applied any pressure. He'd simply told Billy that the position was his if he wanted it, and that he, and all of the Gang, would completely understand if Billy decided to stay in Indiana. The offer was sealed with a kiss, and both knew that Billy had a great deal of soul searching to do before he could give Tim an answer.
Not long after all of the hullabaloo of our homecomings settled down, we received a note from Bernie and Jimmy, inviting us to a "Thank You Dinner" in one of the small ballrooms of the Holiday Inn on Saturday night about two weeks hence. It went on to say that they were inviting us on behalf of the six Olympians that had been so wonderfully supported at the recent Olympics in Seoul. The dinner would be their way of expressing their appreciation for everything that had been done for them leading up to, and at, the Olympics. We were certainly surprised by the invitation, partly because we felt it was unnecessary, and partly because we knew that a dinner in the Holiday Inn ballroom was going to be expensive. Tim and I both read the note and then looked at each other. I know we were both thinking the same thing, but I said it first, "Buy the damn shoes." If this was what Bernie, Jimmy and the others wanted to do, we had to trust that it'd been carefully thought through, and the proper response was, "We'd be delighted." We also decided that a formal, written R.S.V.P. was in order, and we sent an affirmative one right away. The invitations extended to others in the Gang were received with similar thoughts, and they all responded in the same way.
Bernie and Jimmy were definitely the prime movers in this event, as we learned later from Hal. At first they were going to do the whole thing themselves, but realized that they didn't really know all of the people that had been with the group in Korea. They'd approached Hal for help with getting all of the names. Hal had suggested that the hosts of the party be expanded to include the six Olympians. Bernie had expressed concern that Willie, as a young high school student, wouldn't be able to co-host such a party. Hal had simply commented, "Ask him, don't try to answer for him."
Willie had been eager, and said that he had some savings and that he thought using them for such a party was a wonderful idea. He was sure that he, Hardie, June, and-he hoped-coach Wilson would come over to Grand Forks for the party.
Jody and Murray were equally enthusiastic. Before Murray agreed, he had to talk to Toppy. "Listen, Toppy, I'd like to do this, but it's going to cost money, and I haven't earned a dime in four years. I'd be spending your money or even the entire Circle's money."
"That's what we have money for. I don't even need to ask the rest; we both know what they'll say. Just tell Bernie and Jimmy that you'd love to join them in hosting a dinner."
And so the dinner was set. It would cost them about $2,500 to entertain the 100+ people that they would invite. That made it cost them about $420 each, and they all thought it was a bargain. Hal insisted that Bernie and Jimmy, as the two that dreamed up the idea, send the notes of invitation. They decided to write notes, rather than print invitations, to make it more personal.
Everybody came. Willie, Hardie, June, and Coach Wilson, drove over from Iron River, skipping school on the Friday before the party. With their coach's support they'd gotten permission to miss the day. They were finding in many ways that Olympic medals go a long way when dealing with school administrators! But not with mothers, and they found June putting the brakes on some of their wilder ideas.
Not long after the invitations were out Murray got a telephone call from Amanda. "Murray, have you invited your mom and dad to this party?"
"No. I didn't really think of them. We worked with the list of people that went with us to Korea."
"Murray it's time to bring your folks back into your life. And you should invite Toppy's parents as well. I doubt that George will come, but that should be his decision, not yours."
"I guess you're right, Mom. But you know, I'm more comfortable calling you, 'Mom,' than I ever will be again with my own mother."
"Names don't matter. And I'm not suggesting that you do this for your parents, or Toppy's. They made their bed, and it would be very fair for you to let them sleep in it. But it wouldn't be fair to you and Toppy. For your own sakes you need to repair the damage-even if you weren't the cause of the damage."
"I'll talk to Toppy. I think you're right." The dinner, or party as it was coming to be thought of, was, of course, hosted by six persons. When Murray asked the other five about inviting the four parents, he was firmly supported.
"Much to Murray and Toppy's surprise they got notes from both of their mothers indicating that all four parents would accept. We learned later, through Amanda to whom Toppy's mother, Adele, had confided, that the only way Toppy's father, George, had been persuaded to come was that Adele told him that if he didn't come then she wasn't coming back-he was on his own.
"What do you mean, 'I'm on my own'?"
"I mean that this has gone on long enough. If I have to choose between you and my son, I'm choosing my son. Now, are you going with me to North Dakota."
"And will you be nice to your son and to his partner, Murray?"
"I can't promise that."
"Then I'll go alone, and I won't be back."
"I would. Now, will you promise?"
"You're going to have to do better than that."
"I'll be decent to Toppy and Murray."
"You mean it?"
"Yes. It's going to be tough, but I'll do it."
"Thank you, George."
Murray and Toppy were startled that all four parents would be coming. They thought a little and decided that it wouldn't be a good idea to try to put them in a guest room at The Roundhouse or anywhere else with the Gang. They booked them two rooms at the Holiday Inn where the dinner was being held. Everybody else from out of town was going to be bunked in somewhere with the Gang. The two boys, especially Toppy, were very nervous about the meeting with Toppy's father, whom neither of them had seen since he'd thrown Toppy out of his house years ago. They had lunch with their parents at the Holiday Inn on Saturday noon. Murray told us that it had been a little tense, but that George Coleman had behaved, and had been civil to Murray. Murray had noted, "I wouldn't use the terms warm or fuzzy to describe the meeting, however."
The six Olympians had met about a week ahead to plan the meal and program for the dinner. Bernie told the group, "Look, the main reason Jimmy and I came up with the idea for a dinner was to give us a chance to get to know this whole group better. Saying, 'Thank you,' was secondary, though I think by now it's become the primary reason for the dinner. Regardless, Jimmy and I would like to structure the evening so that we can get a chance to meet people and get to know them better."
Hal said, "That's tough given the number of people involved and the fact that you're going to spend most of the evening sitting at a dinner table with a limited number of people."
Willie chimed in, "Wait on that. I have an idea. Is anybody here afraid of getting germs from any of the rest of us?"
"What does that have to do with getting to know people?" asked Jimmy. "I don't think I want to know them that well."
"Here's my idea. Let's say we have about a hundred people. We'll have to work with exact numbers later. We seat ten people at each table, with eleven place settings. Then the six of us move from table to table as the dinner progresses, spending about ten minutes at each table. We sit at the extra place, and simply use the plate, utensils, and meal that's sitting there."
"That's why you wanted to make sure we weren't afraid of germs, right?"
"Well, considering all of the interesting places I have put my tongue, I certainly wouldn't be afraid of using your spoon," said Hal.
"I'm game." That, or a similar comment, came from everyone.
Hal said, "OK, we started with about 100 people, and I think everybody's coming. Add in Murray and Toppy's parents and a few odd extras that we're bound to collect and we have about 110. That would make ten tables of eleven persons each. There are six of us. If we asked the six invitees who were Olympians at the Mexico Olympics-the first Games that any of us were part of-that would make 11, because I'm in both groups. It would mean adding to our group Tim, Jim, Charlie, Billy, and Paul. We'd start with one of that group of eleven at each table and one-probably Jimmy or Bernie-acting as MC. (That actually meant they could accommodate 111 persons and the list was expanded to exactly 111.) Once Bernie finishes his welcome he'll move to the first table and displace the mover at that table. That person will take a minute (using a watch) to move to the next table, and the next person will move on. It'll take ten minutes for everybody to make a move and then we'll start around again. Eleven rounds will take almost two hours, and will let each of us spend ten minutes at each table. Two rounds for salad, two for soup, four for main dish, one while they clear tables, two for dessert. At the first table you eat half the salad, at the second you finish the salad, at the third you eat half the soup, and the fourth you finish it, at the fifth you eat one fourth of the main dish, etc. till the meal's over. Just pick up the spoon and fork and go on eating as if you'd started the meal. It'll be a great conversation piece and will break the ice. Then introduce yourself and get everyone you don't know to introduce themselves. Just assume that they all know each other. Then let the conversation flow until someone comes by to take your place. In one minute, be ready to move to the next table. It works. I like it. Great idea, Willie."
"That's a lot more detail than I ever worked out," said Willie. "But I like it. Let's do it."
They did. It certainly was a conversation starter. The timing didn't work out exactly as Hal had predicted, as Jimmy realized immediately at the dinner. He was at the first table, and was the first to be displaced by Bernie, who was acting as the before dinner MC. As soon as Bernie had welcomed everybody, thanked them for coming, and invited them to begin their salads, he moved to the first table and replaced Jimmy. Jimmy had only had a chance to eat one bite of salad when he had to move-rather than the anticipated half of the salad. As the meal progressed, they all realized that the phases were going to be a little confused, but they easily adapted. Of course, as soon as Bernie sat down at Jimmy's place and proceeded to eat his salad everybody protested and said, things like, "That's Jimmy's, he's eaten out of it."
They'd discussed how to handle that and had decided just to say, "I know," and get on with introductions. Bernie had said that and continued with, "I'm Bernie Frederickson. I was built with misshapen shoulders that allow me to do a butterfly stroke much faster than a normal human being, and that got me some medals in Seoul. I don't believe I know this young man on my right."
They all had their set introduction lines rehearsed, and conversations were quickly started at every table. I didn't hear them all, and very little of major import was said that evening. I'll report on three: Murray and Toppy had seated their parents together at table seven where I was first seated-not by accident. Joining us at the table were the Federers, Jimmy's parents, and Paul and Amanda. Paul and I had discussed how to deal with the possibly touchy situation with George Coleman, Toppy's father, and we'd decided that he needed to be pushed a little, and before Murray got to the table-Toppy wasn't rotating, and was seated at a table with, among others, Beverly Grayson! That relationship certainly was not going to be shared with his parents! Back at table seven I had responded to George's self-introduction as Toppy Coleman's father by letting the whole table know-by way of connecting the introductions-that Toppy was Murray's life partner. I went on to say that Murray had tried for the Los Angeles Olympics but hadn't qualified, and had only been able to keep in top shape to make it to Seoul with Toppy's love and support. George smiled and said that that's what Murray had told him as well. George passed! His wife, Adele, looked visibly relieved. Toppy's mom and dad beamed; clearly they had come to terms with who their son was. I saw Paul smile at Amanda and knew exactly the nature of that unspoken communication.
As Jimmy passed by the table with Carl and Carol, he introduced himself as a archer by avocation and ranger for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department by vocation. Carl picked up on that and asked, "Do you do much camping?"
"Sure do, but most of the guys I work with don't have the time for camping that I have, since most of them are married and I'm single."
Carl went on, "My top architect is an avid camper. He and he wife camp a lot, often with a couple of gay men. I think they all met while they were camping."
Jimmy was almost overwhelmed. He said to Carl, "I'd love to meet this guy."
Carl said, "Stop by my office in The Carl and I'll introduce you."
"My building. It's near campus; here's my business card, it has the address."
Carl had no idea what he might have started with his off the cuff remark about Dirk, who at this point still remained nameless to Jimmy.
When I reached their table Mike Federer and his wife Mabel almost embarrassed me with their thanks for being included in all of Jimmy's archery adventures. Mike said, "When I called you up the first time, Charlie, I was just hoping that you might talk a little to Jimmy about your Olympic experience. I certainly wasn't expecting all that you have done for Jimmy, and including Mabel and me is just beyond fathoming."
I said, "Tonight's invitation comes from Jimmy and his teammates. Most of the rest came from Fred Milson."
"I know. But none of it wouldn't have happened if you hadn't brought Jimmy into your inner circle-your Gang."
"You know, Tim goes out of his way to support every Olympian, especially every one from North Dakota."
"Jimmy's from North Dakota, but he's not connected to UND."
"Doesn't matter to Tim."
"All I can say is, 'Thanks',"
"You're very welcome, Mike. You can repay us by keeping up with your support for young archers in the club."
"I do my best."
When the dinner was over, all six of the Olympians spoke. Honestly, they kept it unbelievably brief. The six were done in 11 and a half minutes-I timed it. They followed this by introducing Mike Reasal, ace photographer for Sports Illustrated. Mike showed about 25 slides of photographs he took in Seoul, including two of each of the six Olympians hosting us. My two favorite pictures were one of Willie in the middle of one of his dives. A beautiful body-as only a gay man can appreciate-beautiful pose, beautiful (as in skimpy) swimsuit. The other was of Hal and Jody standing on the winner's podium after the marathon. The medals were hanging around their necks, the Star Spangled Banner had been played, Hal had stepped up to be on the podium with Jody, and they'd fallen into each other's arms. You can see Jody's face in Mike's photo, and he looks as happy as any man could be. He also looks like the man he's hugging (Hal) might be the most important person in his life. As usual, Mike had caught the perfect image. The photo hadn't appeared in SI, as the editor had selected another of Mike's pictures-one of the two men lying on the ground side by side after having fallen, exhausted at the end of the marathon.
Before heading home Billy visited Larry Knudsen in his office in the Natatorium. "Larry, Tim tells me you're retiring."
"At the end of the school year."
"It's time. I'm sixty years old. I'm eligible to retire. I have enough money saved up. Along with my retirement pay I'll be well fixed. Karen and I are looking forward to doing all sorts of things that we've had to put off-mostly things that involve being in warmer climes in the winter."
"Normal retirement is sixty-five."
"Looking whose talking to me about normal."
"You know that Tim's offered me your job?"
"Of course. I suggested it. But he didn't need the suggestion."
"Larry, tell me straight. Are you resigning to make room for me? I'd ask if you'd had any pressure, but I know that Tim would never, ever do that. But are you pressuring yourself?"
"No, Billy, I'm not. Thank you for asking, though. I'll admit, I might be slower to retire if you weren't in the picture. I might even stay on another year or so if you don't come. That would give Tim time to conduct a national search. I know he thinks this position's important. But that isn't to say that I would like to stay on. Karen and I made the decision from our own perspective. You'll make it possible."
"God, Larry, I loved diving for you. Tim did too. I'm sorry that Willie's going to miss you."
"I'll still be around. I'll have to admit that the possibility of coaching Willie almost made me change my mind. If he has a problem with his dad for a coach, I'll help you out, but I don't expect that to happen. And I do thank you for all the wonderful things you've said about me over the years. You and Tim both have given me a lot more credit than I deserve. You two coached yourselves, and each other."
"Larry, don't sell yourself short. You've had five Olympic divers-all medalists. It wasn't an accident. I am going to be honored to step into your shoes. It's a dream come true."
"Tim was afraid that you'd want to stay on in Indiana and coach the number one team in America."
"You know, Tim met my current boss, Ralph Billings, as a high school student, when he visited IU in his senior year. They hit it off well. Ralph offered Tim a wonderful scholarship, but didn't seem surprised that he turned it down. Ralph understood the pull of a smaller school for Tim. I met Ralph early in my career-introduced by Tim. He knows I'm a chip off Tim's block. I think he'll understand the pull of UND, especially with Tim here. I'm not sure I really understand, but I think I do. It isn't just to be with the Gang. It's to be part of this program. I loved it for four years, and I still love it. And I love you, Larry. I'm glad to hear that you're going to be sticking your head in from time to time. You'll always be welcome."
Before he left, Billy stopped by Tim's office. He asked Tim, "OK, buddy. What if I said I'd only come to Grand Forks if you'll let me fuck you?"
"I'd have to say, 'No.' You knew the answer before you asked, and you would never make that request. And I'll take that as your way of telling me that I'm going to get the diving coach of my dreams next fall."
"Oh, God, Tim, I've been waiting for this. Being with you and Charlie and the Gang, coaching in Larry's footsteps; it's a dream come true. Thank you."
"I'll accept all of that except the 'Thank you.' I'm the one who's supposed to be doing the thanking."
"I'm not going to chase that tail." With that they hugged and kissed.
That evening Tim had tears in his eyes as he told me of the conversation. Billy was special. He and Tim had a special bond. I kidded Tim that it was a good thing that Sara and I got along so well together, as we would be spending a lot of time together as our spouses pursued their long-standing love affair. Tim responded, "But I only fuck you."
The Olympic Games of the XXIV Olympiad were over. Life had returned to normal-if life, the way the Gang led it, was ever normal.
Mexico City! Munich! Montreal! (Moscow; missed.) Los Angeles! Seoul! The Gang had now participated in, and medaled in, five Olympic Games. In four years who would be heading to Barcelona?
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