Well, you get a new narrator. This is Larry Knudsen, known in these pages as either Coach Larry or Larry. Felix told the boys that he'd bet that I'd wet my pants when Tim announced that he intended to come to UND and dive with our team. Well, figuratively at least, Felix was right. That was quite a day! I got a call from the Admissions Office that there was a young man named Tim who would like to meet the diving coach; could I come over to the office?
I made a beeline for admissions, thinking on one hand, "The only Tim diver I can think of is the kid from Minneapolis who may just be the best in the world," and on the other hand, "That Tim isn't going to be visiting UND, so who in the heck is this kid?" Well, there he was. I'd seen his picture and this was really the kid from Minneapolis, but I still said something dumb like, "Are you really the Tim?" Well, of course he was, and you know the story from there. Charlie doesn't really want me to repeat it here. You can reread it at your leisure, thanks to Charlie's wonderful story. It's in Episode 21, "Home".
In the spirit of Charlie's request to all of his new storytellers, which is to touch on our sexuality a little bit (or, perhaps, a lot, if it's interesting), I'll make a comment or two. But I'll keep it short, because it isn't really very interesting. I guess I've lived a very sheltered life, growing up in both of the Dakotas, attending high school in Minot and then NDSU as an undergraduate and UND as a graduate student. I watched Tim and Charlie and the others in their Gang, and I was completely innocent as to what was going on! Well, yes, I knew that Tim and Charlie were partners, and Franklin and Phil. Everyone else was married and seemed to be living pretty normal lives. They certainly weren't pushing their sexuality publically. There was never an incident of any sort involving the athletic teams.
I guess I should've figured a lot out when Lida came to me before Harry Jensen's big trip to Albuquerque. She told me, "Coach, I don't want you to be shocked or upset by this, but I want you to do me a big favor out in Albuquerque."
"What's that, Lida, and how would I be shocked?"
"Harry's going to share a room with Tim and Charlie in Albuquerque. He needs to be encouraged to sleep with them, not just be a roommate. I want you to encourage Harry to sleep with Tim and Charlie."
"Lida, what are you saying? Harry isn't gay, and he's in love with you."
"You're right. But he loves Tim as well, and he'll need all the love and support he can get in this meet. I've told him that Tim'll invite him and that he should accept. But I think he needs to hear it from you. Coach he has tremendous respect for you, please encourage him in this."
"Does Tim know you're talking to me about this?" I asked.
"Yes, Coach, he does. And he's very open to it. Coach, you're a saint, but a very naive one. Tim and Charlie are two very sexy boys, and it isn't limited to each other. Harry needs them. Please encourage him."
"I can't promise, Lida; I'm going to have to think about it."
Well, I didn't say a word to Harry before the meet. But then he quite unexpectedly got into the finals. If I didn't expect it, you can believe that Harry didn't. He was the most surprised young man you can imagine when his name was announced as placing number 16 and being in the finals. For Harry it was a dream come true. And as I thought about that, I thought about Lida's request. Through Harry I'd gotten to know Lida very well, and I had tremendous respect for her. I decided to trust her instincts, and so I suggested to Harry that he should sleep the evening before the finals with Tim and Charlie. He was surprised; Nelson, Tim's high school coach was less surprised; Tim and Charlie didn't seem surprised at all."
"If I ever needed proof of Tim's love and support adage, Harry was it. Harry's diving the next day was so over his head day that neither he, nor I, nor most of the diving world could believe it. Tim simply said, "I always knew he had it in him. Love and support can work wonders."
Harry told me that he did sleep with Tim and Charlie that night, and that "things" had happened. I didn't ask for details, and never heard them before I read them in Charlie's story. They had oral sex; quite an experience for a totally inexperienced straight boy. Harry said, "Coach, I've never had an experience like that; I felt so totally loved, respected, even needed. I've never felt so on top of things in my life. I know that I'm going to have similar experiences with Lida, but that's in the future. This was now. And the feeling stayed with me through every dive. And then when my father showed up, completely unexpected, well, I can't explain it. It was total euphoria. I can't explain it."
"Harry, you don't need to. I got such pleasure watching you dive; you'll never know. And thank Tim."
"Oh, God, Coach, I already have. And I will again. He's the most wonderful boy on earth."
I really don't think that Harry was exaggerating.
Still, after that experience, I didn't really think too much about Tim, Charlie, his Gang, and their sexual relationships. And certainly, I never expected them to include me, and they haven't. Tim seems to have a sixth sense about who might respond to him and Charlie sexually, and who wouldn't. They clearly have me in the "wouldn't" category. And rightly so.
My main contribution to this narrative begins one morning in the late fall of 1979, Tim's first year as President of UND. I was invited to a meeting in his office; I knew that my boss, Phil Stevens, the Director of Athletics, would be there, and a couple of the other coaches had mentioned being invited. Beyond that, I knew nothing.
I arrived right on time, as did, I think, everyone. In addition to Phil and I, five other coaches were present, including Frank, Bess, two of the other women's coaches and the football coach, Les Windsor. Charlie and Prexy were there, which suggested that this was a high level policy meeting, because neither of them got involved in day to day administrative matters. Charlie had been named by the trustees as Chancellor of the University, in addition to his being Dean of Law. Nobody knew what a chancellor was supposed to do on a campus that also had a president, but he and Tim seemed very happy with the relationship, and Charlie continued to spend most of his time in the law school. There were two or three other faculty members present, as well as the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, in which most of the student athletes were enrolled.
Tim called us to order, and said, "The purpose of this meeting is to open a university-wide discussion on the role of athletics on this campus. I don't mind if the discussion gets philosophical and roams to the role of athletics in education in general, but I do want us to recognize that the answers for us may be different from other universities. I hope that today we can move far enough ahead with the discussion so that we can frame the questions to be asked in larger forums on the campus. I've asked Charlie to begin the discussion. As you listen to him, please keep in mind that he is himself an Olympic athlete, as well as a respected educator. He has his feet planted in both worlds, and brings that unique perspective to this discussion.
Tim didn't have to mention that he had his own feet even more firmly planted in both worlds; the point was made by talking about Charlie. Tim remained a master of educational politics.
Charlie didn't just open a discussion; he delivered a well-planned presentation, supported by excellent slides that held everyone's interest. They featured UND athletes and various athletic events that accented the points he was making. Essentially, Charlie stated the philosophical notion that public universities had become major sports promoters in America, and that he believed that was probably an inappropriate role for college educators. But then he pointed out that UND was in no position to change that fact, and that it would seem that we had to operate within the realities of American sports and educational traditions.
He noted that many major universities' reputations, even their academic reputations, were shaped in the public mind by their athletic prowess, not only their won and loss records, but the level at which they competed. If you were in the Big Ten, you competed regularly with the other Big Ten schools, and even the bottom of the heap reaped the reputational rewards.
He then talked about athletic scholarships, and questioned their role in educational athletics. He was uncomfortable with the contractual nature of such scholarships: you play for us, we pay or partially pay your way to school. Wouldn't it be better to grant general scholarships to all students, including those who might bring both academic and athletic distinction to the school? Would good student-athletes really want to accept such scholarships and then refuse to participate in athletics? If they were eager athletes in high school, why wouldn't we expect them to be in college? And if our programs aren't of sufficient quality to inspire student participation, we ought to fix the programs, not control the students by contract.
However, he noted that Division I and Division II schools in the NCAA are limited in the financial aid they may provide to student-athletes, whether they call the aid an athletic scholarship or an academic scholarship. As long as athletic prowess is a major element in the selection of students, such scholarships come under the limits, the Division II limits for UND. Any reshaping of the scholarship program must be within the NCAA Division II rules.
He then talked about the regional nature of our athletic program. Clearly our region, which generally matched the bounds of the North Central Conference in which we play, is what he called the Midwest northern tier. That would include eastern Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota north of Minneapolis, Wisconsin north of Madison, and the Michigan Upper Peninsula. We should be looking to that region to recruit students, and that includes student-athletes. It's a region that ought to produce a good number of highly competitive athletes. An outstanding athletic program at UND should inspire many of those students to be interested in UND. He took it for granted, however, that, in general, we wouldn't attract those student-athletes of such outstanding ability that they were being recruited by Division I schools and hoped to play professional sports. He did argue, however, that we ought to be able to attract some of the students the Big Ten sought, if those students weren't hoping for professional sports contracts-which ought to describe the most desirable student-athletes of all: those of both outstanding athletic and academic ability, as for example, Tim. He argued that while Tim is certainly unique, there are many others of that ilk, and they should be our top goal for UND recruiting.
Tim then took the floor and talked about why he'd chosen UND. He was frank that his first criterion was whether he felt that he would be accepted as a gay athlete. That was hard to predict, but all indications, from both the students and faculty that he met, were that it wouldn't be an issue, and it hasn't been.
His second criterion was easy: he wanted a small school. While UND isn't small in the sense of a small liberal arts college, it's an order of magnitude smaller than the major universities in Division I.
Finally, he was looking for a school that he felt could, and would, provide love and support. That's been his consistent theme when talking about success in athletics. He would like to see it dominate athletics at UND. He strongly believes it's one of the keys to athletic (and other) success, and has been woefully underestimated in most college, and high school, athletic programs. And then he said, "Yes, I believe that that applies to football as well as every other sport, even though I've been told, quite emphatically I might add, by Bo Schembechler at Michigan that I am, at least in regard to football, completely crazy." That got a laugh, but I think that most of the coaches present would've agreed with Schembechler.
Then he opened the floor for unrestricted discussion. It flowed for about an hour, and then we took a break, to reconvene in the President's Dining Room to continue the discussion over lunch.
Gradually Tim's vision of athletics at UND came into focus. Tim wanted the best of everything for UND. He envisioned UND as the dominant athletic force in the Midwest northern tier, and expected to use that position to carve a national reputation in a small number of sports. He noted, for example, that some schools played Division I ice hockey but competed in Division II in other sports. He was eager to find those really desirable students who were both scholars and athletes, and felt that changing the contractual nature of athletic scholarships would appeal to them. He never backed off his opinion of the place of love and support, as well as talent and unrelenting hard work, in athletic success.
Tim could take your breath away with his dreams. The problem in the room was that there were too many self-styled realists. Tim would, and did, call them self-fulfilling prophesiers.
The entire meeting had been recorded, and would be transcribed. Then a summary would be prepared and distributed widely on campus, probably through the Dakota Student. Tim was hoping to foster a wide ranging discussion of the roll of student athletics at UND. I knew my man pretty well, and it was clear to me that he knew exactly where he wanted to go with this, and was simply building support for the changes he hoped to bring. The coaches in the room were the ones that he particularly needed to have on board, and I knew that he'd be meeting with all of us, individually or in small groups, and fairly soon. Having us supporting him was going to be important. And the coaches who weren't fools were going to catch the drift and be in the forefront of Tim's supporters. Anybody who wasn't smart enough to figure that out shouldn't be coaching anybody in anything!
Not unexpectedly, Les Windsor, the football coach, was the least supportive of Tim's ideas. He utterly rejected the idea that scholarships shouldn't be performance contracts: play to get the bucks. Tim's ideas about love and support, at least in regard to football, were "quaint, but suicidal."
Before I talk more about Les, I need to tell the story of Nathan Hallan. Nate played football for New Leipzig High School in southwestern North Dakota. The coach there was a pretty savvy guy, and he had a kid with a problem. He'd followed Tim's career since he first came out and made national news in high school. Now, as the new president of the state university, it seemed to Coach Wilson that Tim was the man to call. Nate's story, as told to Tim by his coach, was both simple and complicated. He was very gay, and very much in the closet. After four years of playing football for Coach Wilson he felt that he could trust him. He'd told him that he was gay. Wilson hadn't reacted negatively, but did ask why Nate was telling him right then, at the end of his senior year of football.
"Coach, I need somebody to talk to, and I'm sure that I can trust you. I'm in the closet, and you can't tell anyone what I just told you."
"You can trust me, but other than offering you a pat on the back or a simple affirmation that I think you're an OK guy, gay or straight, what can I offer you?"
"Just saying what you did was important, Coach."
"Coach, I've played football here for four years, and done pretty well. But I've had to live with a lot of comments about queers and faggots-not directed at me; the words are just used willy-nilly as insults. But every time they're used it hurts. If I'm going to play football in college, I need to find a place where I can be me. Can you help?"
"Not if I'm going to keep my promise to tell no one about you. Can we perhaps change that to the idea that I'll use my judgement about who I talk to about you, and won't expose your secret publically?"
"Yes, that's what I mean."
"I'm going to have a talk with Tim at the 'U'."
"How quickly fame fades. All over the Sports Illustrated cover a few years ago, and now unknown to a smart high school athlete. Nate, Tim is the most famous gay athlete ever, and he's now the President of the University of North Dakota."
"And you know him; you can just pick up the phone and call him?"
"No, and yes. I don't know him, and anybody can pick up the phone and call anybody. They don't have to talk to you, but Tim has the reputation of being a man who'll talk to you."
Well, Coach Wilson had Tim pegged correctly. Tim listened to the story and responded by saying, "Well, Coach, I can affirm that he'll be welcome at the university. But I'm new to the football program here, let me make some inquiries and I'll get back to you."
Tim called in Dr. Stevens, Director of Athletics, and asked him if he knew anything about Les Windsor's attitudes toward gays, or toward having a gay player on his team. Stevens said, I've never heard a negative word from his mouth, but I don't think he's ever had a gay player, as least not an out gay player. Tim asked Stevens to sound Les out, saying, "I can't do it, because he knows I'm gay, and that'll color his response."
A couple of days later Stevens visited Tim's office and reported, "I told Les we'd had an inquiry from a North Dakota high school football coach about our enthusiasm for an out, gay football player, a pretty good one at that."
Coach had responded, "Isn't a good, gay football player an oxymoron?"
"What do you mean?"
"Pansies can't play a real sport like football."
Stevens continued with Tim, "I didn't go on with the conversation; it didn't seem to be worth the time."
"He's got to go. I'm not going to be sorry, because it's all part of a package. You know he's been badmouthing the idea of love and support, and the idea of non-contractual scholarships for athlete-scholars, don't you?"
"Not in so many words, but it doesn't surprise me."
"There are only two games left this year. I don't want to rattle too many cages. But as soon as the season's over, he's history."
"We'll have to buy out two years of his contract. Can you find the money?"
"Yes, if necessary. But, he can simply resign, and we'll negotiate a considerably smaller severance; or, he can be fired for his inability to relate to minority students, in this specific case, gay ones. That might get him fired for cause. I don't think it would look good on his record regardless."
"You play hardball."
"Homophobes are not my favorite people. I'll be fair with him, but I'll deal with him through the university attorney. Then, if he wants to talk to me, he can; but I suspect he won't."
That was a couple of weeks before the Christmas break. During that break, on Christmas Day, in fact, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, sending in airborne troops wearing Afghan uniforms, dramatically escalating their presence in the country, which had, up until then, been limited to "advisors."
On Friday, January 4, 1980, athletes around the country, indeed around the world, learned of President Carter's ultimatum to the Soviet Union: Leave Afghanistan by February 20th or the United States will urge a boycott of the Olympic Games scheduled for July in Moscow. Athletes were outraged that the games might be so politicized, but Carter held to the view that we needed to take very seriously the activities of Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
School resumed on Monday, January 7, 1980, amid all kinds of talk of the proposed boycott. It would fall to the USOC to officially call a boycott, but it was clear that Carter would apply great pressure and that it was unlikely that the power of his office wouldn't be sufficient. Tim told me that Fyn and Arnie came by his office and said, in effect, "Thank God we decided on Los Angeles and not Moscow as our target. But a lot of athletes are going to be screwed by this."
With school back in session, Tim returned to his interest in the university's athletic programs. He had been right that the resignation of the football coach would be forthcoming and a request for an appointment to talk to Tim was not. In the meantime, Tim had gotten back to Coach Wilson in New Leipzig and told him that UND would have a new football coach next year, specifically vetted on his ability to relate to gay and other minority students. Nate would be welcome at UND.
Tim invited me to his office a couple of days later. The conversation began with talk of the proposed boycott. Tim was even more upset about it than most of the athletes. Tim took the Olympics very seriously. He'd poured out years of effort just for the privilege of walking in the opening ceremony. Now this was being taken away from a whole four-year cohort of athletes. While I know that Tim admired Jimmy Carter, and had voted for him, he never forgave what he did to American athletes that year. He changed the subject and said, "Larry, I'd like you to accept a special assignment for me. I want to know everything you can find out about the football coach at New Leipzig High School. Go out to New Leipzig and make some inquiries."
"I like the guy; I like his attitude. Now I need to know if he can coach football. If he can, I'm going to offer him a job."
"Does Stevens know about this?"
"Yes. He says, and I think he's telling the truth, that he'd much rather I hired the new football coach if I was stupid enough to take on that thankless job. Well, I am, because it's a key position if I'm going to make the changes in attitude toward sports that I'm seeking here."
"New Leipzig here I come."
"Talk to Lenny."
I did talk to Lenny, who by now probably knew his way around the state better than anybody else at the university. He responded that he'd go with me out to New Leipzig, as he'd never been there. "The closest I've gotten is Elgin, which is just a few miles away. If I remember it, both of the towns have high schools, and neither of them can support a high school. Merger, being firmly resisted, is nevertheless in their future."
I didn't really know Lenny before that trip. I knew he worked for Tim's speechwriting brain trust, the little group that he kept holed up in the new Alumni Tower. I, like most of the faculty, thought that they must be pretty good, because every time Tim spoke it was a success. But they were contractors, not university employees, so they didn't attend either faculty or staff meetings, and were generally pretty invisible-exactly what Tim wanted. By this time Lenny was living with his partner Sal in Bismarck, and was on campus only a few days a month. Now we were heading west together, having met up at his home in Bismarck, where I'd spent the previous night. On the way out, I quizzed Lenny about how he'd go about finding out about the New Leipzig football coach.
"What do you know about him? What details did you get before you came?"
"I don't know much. He was sympathetic toward Nate, a gay kid that came out to him in his senior year, his fourth year with Coach Wilson. April found a listing of the football team in the school paper-to which your office subscribes. She gave me copies of some clippings from the paper; it appears that he's a popular coach, though school papers usually paint pretty rosy pictures. Beyond that, I don't know where to start."
"My contact is a church secretary of the Lutheran Church in Elgin. I met her through her sister who's an aide for a state senator somewhere up north."
"My God, you do get around."
"It's what they pay me to do."
"Just what do they pay you to do?"
"Provide local color for all of Tim's speeches, and soon that will include a new Vice-President for Development, when they find someone. The office works for Charlie sometimes as well. I think, within reason, that Tim would approve our working with any member of the faculty or staff faced with making an important speech."
Lenny continued, "I'd see if I could locate some of the parents of boys on his team. I think they can tell you most of what you want to know. I'd also talk to opposing coaches. The easiest to find will be the coach in Elgin, and he can put you on to others. In these small towns, the churches are usually the social center. There'll be a Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and one leading church among the Pentecostals, or whatever the fundies call themselves out here. I'm not treading on any toes, am I?"
"No, I'm a mainline Presbyterian, but I'm finding myself too liberal for the Presbyterians, and the main line of Presbyterians are too liberal for the conservative element among them. It's a mess; don't get me on the subject of Presbyterians. So the churches out here are the social centers; what do we do, just show up on Sunday?"
"We could, but it's easier to find out if they have some kind of midweek service, preferably with a meal. Visitors are always welcome, and a visiting coach passing through will be a source of curiosity. If we get lucky, we'll meet this Coach Wilson at some church dinner."
Well, Lenny, moved around Elgin like a politician in the week before an election. He was smooth, polite, respectful, attentive, and very goal-directed. Eventually he was talking to the Assistant Pastor of the Lutheran church in New Leipzig, the church where Coach Wilson taught junior high Sunday School. Friday night they were having a big potluck supper, and we would attend, two three-gallon containers of ice cream (vanilla and butter pecan) in hand along with several cans of chocolate sauce and three Reddi-Whip containers. Lenny zeroed in on Coach Wilson, and soon introduced him to me. Of course, he asked me what I was doing in New Leipzig, and I was ready with an answer. Lenny and I were simply making contact with high schools all over the state, and New Leipzig was on the list. That was certainly true for Lenny; it was a stretch for me, but it covered us as a duo. Wilson was an enthusiastic supporter of his town and school, but admitted that enrollments were down, and their ability to field a football team would soon come to an end. "Before 1990 we're going to have to merge the football program with Elgin, if not the whole school."
It was interesting to hear him talk of "his boys." He knew as much about their personal lives as he did of their football ability. He said, "Working with a small cohort of boys, anybody who wants to play football, plays, and there isn't much opportunity for benchwarming. That's both good and bad. It's good for the boys, because nobody is left out. But some kids just shouldn't be playing football, and they don't accomplish much being out on the field. Still it's good for them, and it's good for the better players, because they know they have to work with the whole team if they're going to win anything."
"What kind of record do you have?"
"We win more than we lose, but just barely. That's probably best for the conference. One team that dominates everybody, or one team that's a punching bag, spoils the fun."
From the other coaches in the area, I learned that Jumper Wilson-called that by the area sports community but never by his players-had turned the sorriest bunch of players in the area into a winning team, and had done that five years in a row. They'd won 6 of 10 games this year, and had taken the conference championship game into overtime before losing by a field goal. He was well-respected by his peers.
Back in Grand Forks I met with Phil Stevens and Tim to report my findings. After listening to everything Tim turned to Phil and asked, "What do you think?"
"I don't think it matters what I think; I'm willing to bet you've found your football coach. Larry, why do you suppose he's still in a little town like New Leipzig?"
"They're so far below everybody's radar screen, that he doesn't get noticed. We wouldn't have known anything about him if he hadn't called Tim about this kid, Nate."
"What about Nate? Are we interested in him as a football player?" asked Stevens.
Tim said, "I think so. Let's send one of the university planes out to get him along with his coach. Send the little Cessna, I'll bet he'd love to fly across the state in a little plane. Let's recruit them both, if they seem to be what we think they are."
February 20, 1980, came and went and the Soviet troops were still in Afghanistan.
Tim called Coach Wilson and invited him and Nate to Grand Forks as guests of the university athletic department. Nate would stay in one of the dormitory guest rooms and be hosted by a couple of football players. Coach Wilson would be Phil Stevens' house guest. Tim said, "I could have him at my house, but we haven't moved into Dakota House yet, and things are kind of mixed up at home. Besides, we want him to think he's the guest of the athletic department, not the president."
The visit went well. Tim, Stevens, several other coaches, and several members of the football team met with Coach Wilson, and all were impressed. Nate spent time with members of the football team, watched Tim practice gymnastics with a number of the gymnasts, and spent an evening with Franklin and Phil-the first gay couple he had ever met, unless you counted Tim and Charlie, but he hadn't met Charlie. The weekend ended with Nate sitting down with the Captain of the football team, Roger Springer, and me, while Jumper Wilson sat down with Tim and Phil Stevens. Nate was offered a full, general scholarship to UND, on the basis of his academic record, his football experience, and the personal interviews that'd been going on all weekend. Jumper was invited to be the UND football coach, with duties beginning as soon as possible. Both offers were totally unexpected, and gleefully accepted. Jumper Wilson had responded by saying, "You know, New Leipzig hasn't got enough boys to seriously play football. Playing a co-op team with Elgin is going to happen soon, and with this it'll just happen a year or so sooner. It'll be good financially for the schools, because they shouldn't be paying two football coaches."
Neither Tim nor I knew it at the time, but he and Phil Stevens had just laid the foundation for football legends in the upper Midwest and beyond!
Arnie and Fyn were now regulars at the pool-every morning, every afternoon, most evenings, all hours on weekends. It seemed that they lived and breathed diving. When Tim was around they sought suggestions on their dives, advice on practice routines and schedules, and heard his advice that they should plan to elect the hardest possible dives in their meets. That meant moving up to those impossibly difficult dives as quickly as possible. They sought my advice as well, particularly my comments on their diving form. They were remarkably good listeners. If I told them they twisted a little too much, they'd ask the best way to correct it, and then they'd do exactly what I told them. The improvement they showed was remarkable, and I was beginning to think that UND, and Larry Knudsen, had our next two Olympic medalists.
Fyn and Arnie were remarkable in other ways as well. Diving seemed to be fun for them, even with the incredibly long hours they put in. Most athletes, divers included, endure the practice hours. These two boys were like Tim and Billy, they loved their practice time, always seeming to be reluctant to leave the pool. In addition, they clearly liked each other, and enjoyed being with each other. Their teasing was friendly and often physical. They always seemed to be happy, and happiest together.
And then there was Margie. As often as not she'd be at the pool with them. She supported them equally, encouraging, cheering, loving and supporting. But it was clear to close observers that Fyn was her lover and Arnie was her good friend. She'd watch them for a while, and then do laps in the swimming pool Over time she became a very good swimmer and could swim laps at a good pace for long stretches. She never claimed to be an athlete, but was probably in better shape than half of the people on campus that considered themselves to be athletes. All seemed to be happy in their lives except their living arrangements-they all lived in the dormitories, and all had had different roommates. Arnie and Fyn managed to switch roommates at the semester break and were now rooming together, but that hadn't helped Margie. The suggestion had been made that Margie might marry Fyn, since that seemed to be where they were headed, and then they could be living together. Margie simply replied, "But that would leave Arnie out in the cold." It was clear that they were looking for a way for the three of them to be together. The best the campus had to offer would be for them to be in the co-ed dorm, but Margie would have a roommate, and it wouldn't be Fyn or Arnie.
Jumper arrived on campus in early March, and very quickly met with the football team. Roger Springer, the captain, reported that Jumper seemed to be well-received. To everyone's amazement, he announced that the spring practice for the team was optional; he only wanted men present who wanted to be there. Of course, he added that without the practice you very well might not be good enough to make the team in the fall! He also handed out a completely revised playbook, which was based on both the book that the team had been using and the book that he'd been using with his New Leipzig High School team. There were some groans, at first, because it meant a lot of studying of new plays. But Roger reported that after the guys had had a chance to go over the book in detail, they were impressed.
Both of his assistant coaches dropped by my office with similar reports. "Jumper is a really nice guy, and seems to know his stuff." This was mixed with, "I'm afraid he's going to be too soft. Who can imagine optional spring practice?"
In the event every last player on the team that would be returning in the fall showed up for his practices. Attendance was better than it'd been for his predecessor, who'd threatened hellfire and damnation on guys who missed practice, and seriously tried to carry out his threats.
On March 21st the USOC voted by a margin of 2 to 1 not to send a team to the Olympic games in Moscow. In later years Carter would try to lay the responsibility for the decision with the USOC, but there's no doubt that it was totally the responsibility of the President. There were even threats to cancel the passports of any athletes that attended. (A few, who were citizens of two nations, did, in fact, compete, but not as Americans.) Tim was livid all day, and grumpy for at least a week. He never really got over it.
Roger Springer was a senior, but he had a year of eligibility left because he'd started college at a small school that didn't have football. He came to Dr. Stevens and said, "I think playing for Jumper Wilson's going to be great fun and good sport. The guy really knows his stuff. I think I'm going to change my plans for graduate school. I was going to work a year or two, and then look around for a good place to get an MBA. I think I'll stay here next year, work on the MBA, and play another year of football."
Phil Stevens was startled by that, and Jumper was very enthusiastic. He'd learned from his assistants that Roger was key to their defensive squad, and his being around for a fourth year was good news indeed. Jumper had a fairly good quarterback, Al Beck, who'd be returning in the fall. He also knew that Nate would be coming in the fall, and Nate had been his quarterback at New Leipzig. Jumper told Phil, "I think we can have a winning season next year." This was something that they hadn't had for several years. Phil told him to share that bit of optimism with Tim.
Tim said, "Jumper, I'm really enthusiastic about you being here, and all of the reports I've had so far have been great. I'd love to have a winning season, but more importantly, I'm looking for a season that ends with two or three wins in a row. There's nothing like starting the following year in the middle of a winning streak!"
Jumper replied, "You think like I do, Boss."
Tim said, "I'm not your boss; I'm your colleague. But tell me how you make football practice fun, especially in the spring when you don't have games to play each week to develop enthusiasm?"
"It's hard. But I have several rules for myself. First, I do everything I ask the team to do. They don't run laps; we do. They don't do calisthenics; we do. They don't do play drills; we do. Second, I really do try to make it fun. We joke, tease each other, have little competitions, you name it. Third, we keep it upbeat: the emphasis is on the joy of winning, not the fear of loss. No one's ever berated or belittled. Fourth, everyone plays in every game. They're really enthusiastic about the idea that there'll be no benchwarmers."
"You violate almost every rule of football coaching. But I gather it's being well received."
"Yes. But it goes nowhere if we don't have that winning season."
"Unless I miss my guess, I think you'll have it. I really like what I'm hearing."
"Coming from a world class athlete, that's a high compliment. I'm going to like being on your team, Tim."
"Come to dinner with Charlie and me tomorrow night. We'd like to get to know you better."
Phil and I, and our wives, were invited to join them, and my wife and I did. Phil and his wife had other obligations. My wife, Karen, and I picked up Jumper from the apartment in which he was living until he could find the house he wanted, and we drove over to Charlie and Tim's. Prexy was out of Dakota House, but it was still being remodeled and Tim and Charlie hadn't moved yet.
We all learned a little about Jumper that evening. He was widowed shortly after marrying his high school sweetheart, with whom he'd attended college and graduate school. They married after they both got master's degrees from the University of Idaho. Within a year she had leukemia and died before two years were up. He'd been devastated and poured all of his efforts into his coaching. "I guess I'm over it now, but coaching is my life. I'd like to find a wife, but who knows?"
"How did you get the nickname Jumper?"
"Wait till you see me at any game I'm coaching!"
"We're looking forward to it."
Tim asked, "Tell me about Nate."
"Best football player I ever coached. He could be a success in the NFL, but he has no interest in the pros. His only real consideration regarding a school was whether he thought he'd be comfortable as an out, gay athlete. That's why I called you, Tim. Everything I've seen so far confirms my decision to accept your offer and my advice to Nate to accept your offer to him."
Tim said, "I'm looking forward to getting to know Nate better. I have a good feeling about him. He was your quarterback, wasn't he?"
"Yes, and I expect him to be our first string quarterback here as well, but not until his second year. Al Beck's a senior and he looks good. But we'll play Nate some as well, that's my rule, and everyone seems to be supporting it."
The subject changed, and Tim asked me, "How's your little diving trio doing?"
"You mean Fyn and Arnie?"
"And the girl they share."
"They don't share her romantically, only as she supports their diving efforts."
"I'll have to take your word for that, but it looked like there was more to it. Two boys, one girl; interesting. And they all get along together?"
"Absolutely. I've never seen any tension. What they'd really like to do is live together."
"Couldn't they get an apartment in town?"
"I expect they will next year. They're in the dormitories now."
Jumper asked, "It'd be OK with the university for the three of them to share an apartment?"
Tim said, "Well, they're of age; it's none of our business. We couldn't stop them. But we wouldn't want to try. I happen to know they're responsible kids, and they're going to make responsible decisions. Not necessarily the same decisions their parents might have made, but responsible ones nevertheless."
"You really believe that?"
"You have to trust kids until they prove they can't be trusted, not the other way around. Too often the attitude is to distrust kids until they, quote, earn your trust, unquote. I can't buy into that."
"My goodness that's refreshing," commented Jumper.
I had to agree, and I said so.
Tim asked me, "They were looking toward the LA Olympics, not Moscow, right?"
"Right, thank goodness. I don't think that UND has any athletes that were expected to go to Moscow, since you and Hal have retired."
"We may not, but a lot of schools do. Oh, Hell, don't get me started on that subject."
Charlie said, "Yes, please don't. I'll suffer all night."
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]
* Some browsers may require a right click instead