The Set Up
…in the fall of 1966, I was a rookie physical education teacher and boy’s gymnastics coach at South Hills High School in West Covina, Ca when I met Gordy. He was a professor in the Department of Physical Education and Athletics at Cal State LA (LA State College at the time) and served as men’s gymnastics coach. His reputation as an athlete, innovator and gymnastics technician was huge and he was only 35 years old. He coached several NCAA champions at the college and was a principal architect in the restructuring of gymnastics in the United States by joining a select few to wrest power from the AAU and transfer it to the NCAA along with the creation of the US Gymnastics Federation. This political victory reshaped American gymnastics.
During my senior year at Temple University (1964), the NCAA Championships were held at LA State College and Gordon was the Meet Manager. Our team expected to travel from Philadelphia to Los Angeles with all hands on board as was our custom, but it was not to be. Three of us remained home while three athletic administrators took our places on the trip west. I, along with two others were relegated to ‘back-ups’ for this meet (non-starters, pine riders, bench warmers, scrubs, etc.) so we were deemed ‘non-essential’ while the three ADs were considered ‘essential.’ Go figure!!! Upon the team’s return, our guys, along with Coach Patterson had nothing but praise for the meet, the competition and venue. While I did not yet know Gordon personally, I knew him through the eyes of others.
The Teacher is Born When the Student Arrives
As a rookie coach having competed in only one event (rings), it was necessary for me to become intimately familiar rather than casually so with seven others. They were: Tumbling (now defunct), Free Exercise, Long Horse (now Vaulting), Rope Climb (now defunct), Parallel Bars, Horizontal Bar and the killer, Side Horse (now Pommel Horse). I was once again a student and attended every clinic, workshop, class and camp available. It was at a continuing education class conducted by Gordon Maddux in Baldwin Park High School’s gym, the site of the class, where we first met and he was presenting a Master Clinic on Vaulting. Without going into great detail concerning the tech stuff, Gordon talked about applying the Newtonian principle of ‘parallelogram of forces’ when approaching the Reuther Board upon takeoff. Of the fifty or so coaches in the bleachers listening and watching the demo, they had that look as though he was talking Czechoslovakian. I got it! No kidding, I got it! I was a pretty good kinesiology student and had a basic understanding of bio-mechanics. More important, Gordon explained and demonstrated this principle in a very practical way. From that moment, I knew he was my source and I was going to learn from the master that which he was willing to teach. As an aside, he later hired me to coach at his gymnastics camp during the summers in the San Bernardino mountains outside of LA and that is where he earned the nickname of Batman. His wife packed ‘batman pajamas’ and he actually broke them out and wore them in the coach’s barracks. Very gutty guy!
At the conclusion of that initial session, I made my way down the bleachers and stood in line waiting to have a word with my new found gymnastics guru although he would hardly consider himself such. When my turn arrived, I introduced myself as the new guy at South Hills and was greeted warmly and enthusiastically…probably because he potentially had another student to enroll in future classes. But, I stuck around until he and I were the last people in that gym and we talked gymnastics for hours that night. When he learned I was a former Temple gymnast, he had very kind words to say about Coach Patterson, my coach, and how they worked together on that pesky AAU issue. I visited his gym often to observe and learn and asked him to visit mine. We became friends…really good friends so much so that Nancy (my girlfriend at the time and my wife as of 1971) would go to dinner with Gordon and Donna (his wife at the time) on a regular basis. Gordon Maddux was the first to bring real science to our sport rather than the ‘don’t let go of the bar until you see that spot on the wall’ style of coaching which permeated gymnastics. He was different, but more important, he was special.
South Hills High School
Gordon frequently judged our meets which started promptly at 3:30 PM on Wednesday afternoons and 7:00 PM on Friday evenings. Judges are required to report to the meet manager (home team coach) at least ½ hour prior to the scheduled start time. I can honestly say that Gordon was never late for a meet, however, he was never in the gym until meet time. I think he just liked to see me in panic mode. As our teams improved over my six seasons at the high school, he recruited several of our kids to LA State. Once we became an elite high school program, both in CA and nationally, our kids were being recruited all over the country to the elite NCAA gymnastics programs. That did not affect our friendship in any other way but positively. I believe Gordon took pride in the success we enjoyed at South Hills since he was an integral part of the program’s development via me, his student. At one point, my good friend ‘Everett the Cop’ (retired LAPD who is a wonderful but not highly quotable guy) said, “I think Gordon sees you as a pet. Everywhere he goes, you go.” Funny as that line may seem, I’m certain it bears some truth.
The CIF Championship
In 1971, my fifth season at the high school, we were the No.2 ranked team in the CIF (CA’s governing high school sports authority) behind Lakewood HS. We enjoyed an undefeated dual meet season; so did they. We won our conference championship; so did they. We won our CIF prelims; so did they. They won the CIF Championship; we did not. While walking to the bus after that meet, my guys were looking at the ground like they were searching for loose change. Once seated, I congratulated our kids on a great season but in the same breath reminded them that, “a year from now, we are going to be in the same position with a No.2 ranking behind Lakewood. Ask yourself if you want to be the congratulaTOR or the congratulaTEE. I’ll know your answer by the way you come at training during the summer. The gym will be open at Mt.Sac (local community college recreation program) for evening workouts M-Th from 6:00-10:00 PM and at South Hills from 8:00 AM –Noon on the same days (summer school physical education class). I will be at both sessions. You, try to be at one if not both.” The end result was a CIF Championship and a Southern California Championship over the LA City Champions. In some ways, Gordon Maddux had as much to do with those championships as any of us. To this day, that was the most thrilling and rewarding experience of my life and I thank Gordy for being an integral part of that success.
Gordon to the Rescue (again)
My experience at CSULA was a good one for the most part. During my 12 year stay, I was a kinesiology professor, health education professor, gymnastics coach, associate department chairman, associate athletic director, Intramural Sports Director and an academic senator. I was informed by a VP that my contract would not be renewed at the conclusion of Spring Quarter, 1984. I knew something was up for several years prior and prepared myself for a career change. During that time, Gordon was in his prime as the voice of gymnastics by virtue of his long tenure with ABC. The Summer Olympic Games of ’84 were held in LA, and the gymnastics venue was at Pauley Pavilion (UCLA). Gordy contacted the Meet Manager, Sue Wilson, who was filling managerial positions and he recommended me to her for consideration. After submitting to a rigorous vetting process, I was named Manager of Award Ceremonies for the venue. It was a great way to leave a career and the sport I loved. It was also a great honor to present Gold medals to the Men’s Team and to Mary Lou Retton.
As I embarked on a new career as an investment advisor, my association with the Olympic Games was something very special. It was also very helpful regarding my standing with colleagues, clients and friends, particularly in establishing my practice. I thank Gordy for that introduction where he once again was instrumental in positively affecting my personal and professional life. It really was life altering.
Gordon’s Induction into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame
In May of 2014, it finally happened and Gordon was inducted! It was a very proud moment for many, especially for me in that Gordon and I have been close friends for just about 50 years as of this writing and this honor was long overdue. To be considered for induction, one must have demonstrated great skill as an athlete by winning a medal (any color) in recognized international competition. That’s code for the Olympics, or that caliber of competition. While Gordon was an outstanding gymnast at the University of Northern Colorado and in their athletics hall of fame, it is not the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. A special category was created to accommodate great contributors to our sport who influenced and propagated gymnastics in a very significant way. This would be, The Frank Bare Award and I know of none who deserved that honor more than Gordon
Maddux. Remember…”I’d give her an 11” when asked by Jim McKay what Olga Korbut should receive on a ‘bars’ routine in the ’72 games in Munich? Or during the ’84 games when he described Tim Daggett’s pommel horse routine as…”he’s all over that horse like a naked lady.” ABC’s switchboard in NYC lit up like a Christmas tree after that comment, as the story goes.
So exactly, what is his achievement you might ask? Well…to sum it up briefly, he is THEE guy who took our arcane sport in which few had interest and placed it dead center in our living rooms. Yes, there were many who made significant contributions to gymnastics, but none as game changing as were Gordon’s. Since ’72 and to this day, the single most viewed event during the summer Olympic Games is gymnastics. (My favorite is women’s beach volleyball… for reasons undisclosed). Private gymnastics clubs flourished all over the country since ’72. Gymnastics became an integral part of physical education curricula and now, every little kid in America participates in some way through schools, the Y, clubs, community recreation programs, etc. It is now part of our sports fabric.
The affair was quite formal and conducted in a magnificent facility in Oklahoma City which is where the Hall resides. Bart Conner was the Master of Ceremonies and was accompanied by his wife, Nadia Comaneci. Even the Governor was in attendance. Gentlemen guests were in black tie and the ladies in gowns. At our table was Gordon’s daughter, Iris along with his son Tim (Nancy’s and my Godson) and his bride Katie. My date was Lynn Weber. I think I need to explain this before I get into trouble. Nancy was not available due to schedule conflicts and Lynn is the wife of my dear friend and former professor from my days as a grad student at the University of Oklahoma, Jerry Weber. Everybody got that????? Cool!
When Bart introduced Gordon, the entire room stood and applauded for what seemed to be an hour. He delivered a great acceptance speech and it too was received with yet another standing O. On the podium was the entire six man team that won the Gold Medal in the ’84 games here in LA. They are, Bart Conner (U of Oklahoma), Scotty Johnson (U of Nebraska), Jim Hartung (U of Nebraska), Tim Daggett (UCLA), Peter Vidmar(UCLA) and Mitch Gaylord (UCLA). When those guys competed in ‘84, Gordon did the color commentary and I directed that awards ceremony. It was emotional in ’84 and equally so in ’14. Gymnastics has come a long way over these years and Gordon Maddux (The Batman) was on the front line of that accomplishment. I am proud to be his student and even prouder to be his friend.