• Jill Campbell

The Role Model I Never Had

Updated: Feb 3, 2020



Unintentional Inspiration:


Victory in the Nick of Time


An unparalleled effort on the part of the men's basketball team produces a long arcing 3 point basket by Miles Bridges with 2.7 seconds left in the game: the game-winner as the score was tied before that against the nationally-ranked Team Purdue. We are ranked 4, they 3. Tough team with two players over 7': one at 7'2" and the other at 7'3". Amazing Giants.


When at home after the game we watched MSU Access TV which has half hour vignettes of the players. As a featured player talked about his mentor, his sports oriented family, his life in baskeball.t

Insight flashed its treacherous eyes at me.


Most of these players follow someone, usually their father, who played in the NBA or played in college or coached and learned the supreme values that sports, particularly team-oriented sports give you.

One huge wholistic view bloomed suddenly in my mind, full-fledged and unique. I sailed as a loner. A pioneer. I had no one to follow. None of my forebears, neither of my parents were athletic. At all.

My introduction into gymnastic was through ballet. My teacher, Miss Marilyn, (how quaint our namings were in the 50s) had 'acrobatics' once a month. At the tender age of 12 during a serious meeting of my mother and myself, she confessed, "Jill has talent. I can't teach her anymore. I know an old circus trainer who teaches tumbling in North Chicago named Jim Rozanas. I'll give you the address and phone number. I recommend him."


A month later I find myself in a small room with a mat set diagonally across it to maximize the tumbling length. Four other students tumble with me. Rozanas barks out orders. Works us like dogs. We sweat and pant. Try our hardest. He yells some more, "WHY DID YOU NOT POINT YOUR TOES? WHO TAUGHT YOU THAT WAY? WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU? WHY CAN’T YOU DO IT BETTER?"

On the way out I'm sniffling. Little rivulets course down my cheeks. My throat is clogged up.

Mothers being mothers, mine says, "Don't worry you never have to return to a lesson with this awful man."


If my memory serves, I reply simply, "But he's so good!" And then bawl. I've never been yelled at before. I'm in shock but I see that he knows skills I'd only dreamed.

He moves to the south side of Chicago. Now the drive takes 1 1/2 hours each way for a one hour lesson. But I continue. Within a year I've learned 5 different aerials. I do them down State Street in Chicago for the Thanksgiving Day parade since I get $1 for each DIFFERENT aerial I perform on the pavement. Ouch. And pride.


The following summer as a designated Demonstrator I'm brought to the first Gymnastics Clinic run by George Szypula at MSU. I'm enthralled. I see equipment: uneven parallel bars, balance beam, vault. Working out 8 hours a day, seeing great talent working to improve themselves through learning what their bodies are capable of turns me on.


The second day I am so stiff I can't walk down the stairs. My thighs lock. I lean on the bannister like an old cripple. It takes two full hours to get my muscles to function in a half normal way.


But I'm hooked. And there I am introduced to Bob Bohl who has a gymnastic training gym in Evanston-a mere 45 minutes away from my home. Within a year of training with him he invites me to come live in an apartment next to his. I'm 15. Not an option, although the carrot of training me for the Olympics has my brain salivating. I'm not ready to leave my family. But I am ready for many gymnastics challenges. Medals from competitions fill a suitcase.


No gymnastics for girls at my high school so I get a janitor to build a balance beam: "Just put 2 8' 2x4s together so it's 4" wide, 16' long and 4' off the ground. The janitors construct a Rube’s idea of a balance beam and I start a sort of gymnastics club. We can't compete, but rather do shows of various kinds. Lots of building of camaraderie.


It all culminates in a surprise $500 check to the university of my choice 'for athletics' voted by the board of Education and presented at graduation. When I accept at Ravinia where we have the ceremony, cameras flash. Reporters have come to report the first woman in the state of Illinois to receive any money for athletics to a university.


That suitcase full of medals stays at home when I am accepted to MSU-my dream school. The women's gymnastics team there is great. I compete in all-around. I'm a Big Ten gymnast! We travel to other Big Ten schools. Every day I work out after classes, between classes, even before classes.


My coach is mediocre. She won't spot me for skills that I know are possible such as a back handspring on the beam. Heck thousands of kids do that skill now by the age of 6! Back then, 1966, my coach said, "Sorry that's not possible. You might get injured badly" Of course. I've already been injured lots.

My hands ripped up on the bars so that my mother, being a mother, said, "If I see that again, you'll have to quit. Your hands look terrible. Not good for a young lady." I can't show her my hands again. When they rip, I get 'New Skin' on them. My palms become so sensitized from so much ripping that they have to chase me around the gym to put on New Skin.


I'm winning a lot. In my senior year I qualify for the Olympic tryouts. But my coach doesn't show up with the plane tickets and I mortally miss my opportunity. She's stayed home with her sick 2 year old daughter, "I didn't think you'd want to go without a coach"


WRONG!!


I lost the opportunity of a lifetime. But during this whole time not only have I worked hard I've learned and learned and learned. Learned to grow up to trust myself. Trust who I am. Not need to rely on someone else, but need to rely upon myself to grow in the direction I choose.


I've learned to challenge myself. Built self-discipline further than I thought possible. Learned to overcome prejudice and stand up for my rights as a woman. Learned that I won't be belittled for my gender. Learned to work together with a team and yet always put out my best for others.

Become more responsible and dependable. Become more creative. More understanding of when to continue and when to quit. Been able to listen attentively to my body.


Created new moves. Understood intense focus.

Kept my body and mind in shape. In connection with one another.

Understood with growing certainty that sports yield positive results that need to be instilled in others.

I may not have had role models but...

Two daughters: Each developing athletically. Terra, the swimmer got as far as competing in State Championships and still coaches. Her daughter Rio now has been chosen for the National Girls Water Polo Team and Junior Olympics. Younger daughter Soleil competed in gymnastics to start high school only stopped when she had so many dance classes that she couldn't do both sports. Now her son Alex excels in sports whether it be martial arts, soccer, basketball, swimming, or softball:

I'm pleased. A different legacy than I ever imagined is evolving. I am becoming the role model I never had.


January 26, 2017


I was at first denied in my application to the Spartan S Club - they could find no records of me ever having earned a letter. I appealed. Crushed I threw the full weight of my history at the club.

Only to discover that they did not begin to issue letters to Women's gymnastics until 1974-4 years after I graduated. I'm incensed. I can't be recognized fully? When I was a pioneer in the sport that is now one of the top Women's sports in the US?

I have a metaphor:

The Wright Brothers did not have pilot's licenses-but they are fully recognized as pilots. Why not gymnastics pioneers? OK - the Wright brothers are an extreme example, but the point is made. I write to the Spartan S Club asking who I can turn to...

I get no response for days (this written 1/28) So I plug in my emotional energy, tie it to my penchant for solving problems and come up with a letter which I send to the following 6 people:

President Lou Anna Simon

Athletic Director Mark Hollis

Deputy Athletic Director Greg Ianni

Varsity S Club Executive Director Allen Haller

Executive Associate AD/Student-Athlete Services Jim Pignataro

And Head Coach Women's Gymnastics Kathy Klages

My positive energies flow out in a strength I haven't known in a while. It is good to bump up against an unknowing status quo and request equity.

January 30, 2017, Zipping home for an hour. I see that I have a message on my phone, a voice who identifies herself as Shelley Applebaum, assistant AD at MSU, who tells me,"You have reached out to several people regarding the fact that you competed four years for MSU without receiving a varsity letter, I am the person who can make this right."


I call her back immediately. Two people answer on a conference call. "I have called to make you whole. We are honored to grant you a letter..." These are the only worlds I hear before unbeckoned tears well up and spill over. I had no idea how important this was to me. "We want to make you whole and award you a varsity letter as well as full status in the Varsity S club with all its perks..."

The tears stream down now. "When the letter arrives we will have a little ceremony for you in Jenison" Now I'm hopeless. Just smiling through a salty river.


As soon as I hang up I run in to Wayne to tell him the news. We suddenly have a merging stream of salt water dampening our clothes, but not our spirits or our hug. Six weeks later: We park at Jenison, walk up the front stairs past photos of prominent Spartan athletes, including Dave Thor, the only gymnast who made the Olympics and whom I dated-fond memories, into the plush suite of the Athletic Director.

We have a seat and wait until Shelly comes out, who waits for Mark Hollis, who waits for another Asst. AD, who waits for yet another asst. AD, I expect that they will now hand me a letter and shake hands. Wrong! They say, "Let's go upstairs now." My heart beats a little more... That's where I always used to work out and where we had meets.


I am nodding silently: this is significant! We open the door. One of the gymnasts is just completing her floor ex routine. Including flifusses (a double flip with a twist in each flip). We are all applauding when the gymnasts gather in a semi-circle-As they move I'm struck dumb, "you all knew about this?" "Of course" they say in unison.

I'm flabbergasted. In fact I'm in tears. All choked up when the AD Mark Hollis presents me with my letter framed with a plaque: Jill (Schulze) Campbell-Mason

gymnastics 1966-1970.


Applause. A pause-I'm supposed to make a speech. Instead I think this is a learning and inspiration opportunity. I tell about having a janitor make a balance beam of 2x4s at my high school and having the Board of Education surprise me at graduation by awarding me with a small scholarship for athletics-the first woman in the state of Illinois to be awarded money for college for athletics! And the story about being left without a plane ticket to the Olympic trials and having to do cartwheels everywhere after having done one at the real Olympics in Greece 8 years ago. I take a few steps and cartwheel down the mat into the semi-circle of gymnasts to resounding applause, laughter, then high five all gathered.

The circle tightens-we all hold our hands aloft together in the center of the circle and shout SPARTANS! Why write about gymnastics when I'm supposed to be writing an author bio? Good question. All questions are good. And most of them have somewhat decent answers, but never all. My bio is a flifus.

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