Well, you've heard about the Marauders, but there was more than that to the dreams of Nels and Mary. Their venture, which they thought of as a club, was similar to the Marty Center, except that it featured three sports-- archery and fencing as well as cycling. Fred was willing to back Mary and Nels, even though he was sure that the venture could never generate sufficient income to support them. He also knew (he had inside information) that Fred's Sports would be willing to be a continuing sponsor of the effort. Charlie here–I am the chief author of these stories, though recently it would be hard to know that for certain–and I'd like to tell you of Nels and Mary's efforts.
Nels and Mary had quite a first year running their program. Starting out they had no concept of the complexities they'd encounter. They quickly realized that their biggest problem was running a program that involved two essentially outdoor sports, archery and cycling, in the winter in North Dakota. Somehow, that didn't seem to be quite such a big problem when they were dreaming this up in July in Atlanta, Georgia. By November in Grand Forks it was a real issue! In order to hire a cycling coach, a fencing master, and an archery coach, they had to be able to offer full-time, year-round jobs, even though the number of participants in the program couldn't justify full-time positions. They needed to get everything under one roof, but until they had their own building, that would be impossible. I could go on and on, and when we invited Nels and Mary to dinner from time to time that winter, they did go on and on.
But Nels and Mary were exceptional people. They'd go on and on about their problems, but the conversation always focused on the solutions. They were able to strike a deal with Tim to have the fencing master be an adjunct faculy member at the university, allowing the university to offer fencing in the physical education curriculum–something that proved to be popular, and led, over the years, to several club members. They were able to rent a large warehouse space and lay out an indoor bicycle track for the first winter. They struck a deal with the North Dakota Bowman's League that would endure for years. The league was much more interested in hunting than in target shooting, though they hadn't been unhappy to have two of their target shooting members–Jimmy and me–medal in the Olympics. The deal was quite simple, members of Nels and Mary's club could use the outdoor facilities of the League if League members, i.e. hunters, could use Nels and Mary's eventually to be built indoor facilities. In the meantime, the League's poor, but usable, indoor facilities, which had, after all, produced two Olympians, would be available to everyone. It was an up front gift to Nels and Mary, but over the years probably gained the League more than it cost them. Everyone was happy.
All of this took money, and Tim (using the Gang money that we got as dividends on Fred's Sports stock) and Fred (through a Fred's Sports sponsorship) simply opened the spigot. The two of them, along with Marty, sat down with Nels and Mary and gave them a little lecture on the facts of life–that is, the facts of financial life in the Gang. First, they had Nels and Mary set the thing up as a non-profit educational corporation, with a Federal tax exemption. Fred explained, "It means that you'll never be able to take any money out of the operation except reasonable salaries. Profits have to stay in the non-profit corporation. But let's have a little reality here, there aren't ever going to be any profits."
Nels interrupted, "Uncle Fred, we think that we can make a profit out of this operation. That's why we want to do three sports instead of just one."
Fred chuckled, "Three sports simply means you lose money three times as fast."
Nels was a little miffed at that, but Mary got the picture. She said, "I think I know what you're getting at, Uncle Fred. It might be possible to make this a profitable operation, but never at the level of quality and service that we want to provide."
"Exactly. As soon as you guys have a little money ahead, a talented kid with no money is going to knock on your door, and you're going to let him in. You aren't going to hire hack coaches that work for minimal salaries; you're going to want to hire topflight coaches that can get your kids to the Olympics. You're going to want to take large groups to matches and races, and that'll mean including kids that can't afford to pay. You're going to want a velodrome, and no way can this program pay for that, and it won't generate enough income on its own to pay the mortgage. But, if you're a non-profit Fred's Sports can at least deduct the money it spends on your behalf."
Nels said, "I guess Mary and I were dreaming when we thought all of this up."
"You sure were dreaming, and that's why Tim, Charlie, Marty, and I love you so much. The fact that your dreams weren't fiscally sound doesn't mean that they weren't wonderful dreams. You're going to have a wonderful effect on the lives of many young people in Grand Forks and the Northern Tier. The involvement of Fred's Sports will be an asset for us, and don't think we aren't going to tell the world. That'll be good for you and for us. We love you for your dreams. But now you're going to have to let us help you realize them."
Fred got two kisses for that speech, and Marty said, "Hey, I feel left out." He wasn't for long.
Marty said, "OK, you're going to need a business manager. You two are going to be completely involved in running the program aspects of this thing, but somebody has to write the checks and make sure there's money to cover them. Fred, get Andy to loan someone from the main office to handle that task on a part-time basis."
Tim said, "Now look, this is only going to work if you two aren't feeling guilty about taking Fred's Sports' money. I know you dreamed that it would work out otherwise, but you have to be willing to accept this reality. You're working for, well you're running, a non-profit. It has a sugar-daddy, almost all of them do. You're providing the time and labor, someone else is providing the money. It's nothing to apologize for, nor feel guilty about. You're doing a public service. As the years go by, that service will be to more and more young people. Be proud of that. And do a damn good job."
Nels came over to Tim, kissed him, and said, "I will, Uncle Tim, I will." He turned to Fred and said, "I really will, Uncle Fred. Thank you."
It was a very moving moment. Fred and Tim could both be inspiring, each in his own way. I certainly knew that I'd hitched myself to the right star, and that Tim and I, in hitching ourselves to a star named Fred, had done the same.
So, with a rented warehouse with a bicycle track surrounding an area reserved for fencing, and the borrowed use of a good outdoor and a poor indoor archery range, what did Nels and Mary have to offer except their dreams?
Well, for starters, dreams matter. As Nels loved to point out, virtually every trip to the Olympics begins with a dream, often a very unrealistic one. Second, Nels and Mary were able to hire very good coaches. They didn't even talk to people that hadn't coached some athlete in the Olympics, and then they were very picky and looked for a coaching philosophy that would match their dreams and the Gang's way of doing things. Only then, backed by Fred's money and a two-year contract guaranteed by Fred's Sports, did they approach their first picks. Three out of three: they were not turned down. In talking to the three of them during that year I learned that the reputation of Grand Forks, North Dakota, in producing Olympians was being noticed. Nels and Mary were both products of that environment, and they assured the new coaches that their new program was going to fit right into the Grand Forks pattern, and be supported by Tim, Charlie, and the other Olympians that lived in the city.
And so they came: In archery, Coach Nick Burton, former national champion, and currently coaching in Boston. He admitted that he'd looked on the map and decided–very much in error–that the weather in Grand Forks couldn't be much worse than Boston. In fencing, Fencing Master Marc Durand, was hired from a fencing academy near Bordeaux. His English was excellent, but he spoke with an accent you could cut with a knife. I'm still convinced that it was deliberate and a key part of his charm. In any case, he was wildly popular with his students. Finally, road racer Rod Silverman agreed to come to North Dakota as both a racer and coach, and he brought six experienced racers with him from Oregon. They'd collectively decided to trade rain for snow in their practices, and were quite eager to add the winds of the northern plains to their regimen. But you know all that, having read the Marauders Episode.
With the Marauders came a name (NTAC), logo (the Little Dipper), and colors (blue and white). These quickly became prominent features of both the outside and inside of their warehouse. The name and/or logo turned up on clothing, decals, stationery, bumper stickers, archery target bull's eyes, and all sorts of inventive places.
Kids love shooting bows and arrows, but that enthusiasm rarely translates into a willingness to put in the long hours that it requires if one is going to treat it as an athletic sport and not a game. However, there was a small number of young people that were interested. Coach Burton had come from Boston, where he'd been coaching in a program aimed mostly at teens. Nick Burton had been an Olympic competitor in Barcelona in 1992, and he remembered Jimmy as the bronze medal winner, but he'd been much lower in the rankings. Nevertheless, Nels and Mary had considered his Olympic experience important when they decided to hire him. On Nick's side, moving to North Dakota hadn't been high on his list of things to do, but the offer of a well-paid, full-time job coaching archery was something he simply couldn't turn down. But Nick didn't have a following of top archers that would come with him to Grand Forks. The archery group would have to be home grown.
However, Nels and Mary had chosen carefully and well. Nick turned out to not only be a very good archer and talented coach, but an extraordinarily charismatic leader who easily and fully embraced the concept of love and support. His little group of archers grew very quickly as the grapevine put it out that this was a really awesome place to be after school. Nick combined fun with good instruction, and soon had a group that could hold up its head in youth competitions in Fargo, elsewhere in the Dakotas, and western Minnesota.
The archery program presented one problem for Nels and Mary: its location at the archery range on the edge of town, when the fencers and cyclists were located in the rented warehouse space closer to town and in a different direction. Nels and Mary wanted to create a single entity, and having the archers someplace else detracted from that. Of course, the cyclists were often on the road, but they were still centered on the warehouse. Their solution was to create NTAC Friday Nights. These were parties, dances, and entertainment every Friday night at the club (warehouse). All the members, regardless of sport, were invited, and they were invited to bring up to three friends–this was envisioned to be a date and another couple, but all kinds of combinations arrived and were welcomed. It quickly grew to be the "in" place to be if you were a teen in Grand Forks on a Friday night. And it very quickly built an esprit for the entire club that simply hadn't existed before.
It turned out that fencing wasn't hard to sell to American teens and pre-teens. Sword fighting was a great entertainment for kids, and interest had been heightened by the Star Wars Trilogy of twenty years before, and the renewed interest in Star Wars as the first movie of the second trilogy entered into production with great fanfare. All this included huge sales of "light sabres," action figures, and the like. Boys–and girls–were intrigued with the idea of real sword fighting. However, even with this helping recruitment, not that many young people turned out for fencing.
It would be necessary for the club to acquire a considerable amount of fencing equipment: swords (sabres, foils, and epees), masks, protective clothing, and electronic scoring systems which had been introduced to the sport in the mid-twentieth century. Nels and Mary learned that while swords and masks had to be of top quality right from the beginning, heavy cotton clothing was adequate for practice, as was the judgement of the referee in lieu of the electronic scoring that was used in tournaments. Nels and Mary decided to purchase the tournament approved equipment only when they had fencers who were at a level at which that was needed. Their research, confirmed by Marc, their fencing master, indicated that there really wasn't a safety risk in relying on heavy cotton clothing in practice. They learned that there had never been a fencing fatality in the United States, and that most injuries were of the pulled muscle or tendon variety. Wearing a good mask, at all times, was the critical safety rule.
They did learn of "plastic and foam" fencing. It was becoming popular in some fencing clubs and youth clubs for pre-teens and young teens. The equipment was cheap, and it allowed young people an opportunity to try the sport at very low cost. Nels and Mary made "plastic and foam" fencing available to young kids at minimal cost, and over the years found that it was a great way to get new kids interested in the sport. Even with plastic and foam equipment, regular masks were always used, because even plastic can damage an eye all too quickly.
Master Marc, as he was called, proved to be gifted at working with children. He had a knack for getting kids to play with their swords, and slowly shift them toward learning the sport rather than playing at sword fighting. But he understood that until they were hooked on the sport, they'd come for the sword fighting before they'd come for the athletics. It made for some wild times at the warehouse, but much to the delight of Nels and Mary, the number of participants slowly grew, as did the number that seemed to be interested in actually becoming good fencers. Those that were there only to play at sword fighting would drop out after a while, and when they were there Master Marc was easily able to direct their play in safe and non-disruptive directions. The program grew slowly, but steadily.
Master Marc also taught two fencing classes in the physical education department at UND. Each met for three hours a week, one at 7:45 in the morning and the other at 12:45 p.m. Because the university wanted to take advantage of the equipment owned by NTAC, the classes met at NTAC, paying rent for equipment and facilities to NTAC; as Nels said, "Every little bit helps." They met fifteen minutes ahead of the regular schedule, to allow students to get from NTAC to campus for classes that began on the hour. The classes were one-credit beginners classes. Almost everyone was surprised at how popular they were (both filled up), and everyone hoped that there would be a demand in future years for intermediate and then advanced classes. A couple of freshmen joined NTAC to practice longer hours, get more advanced instruction, and eventually to enter tournaments with other NTAC members.
As Fred, Marty, and the original Gang looked over the shoulders of Nels and Mary, it very quickly appeared that it would be successful–all three of their chosen sports seemed to be starting off well. To Fred that meant one thing: it was time to build a velodrome.
He sat down with Carl, who'd already put together a fairly complete design, to discuss the project. His main concern was to determine those issues that needed to be resolved before the project could go forward. Carl spelled them out fairly succinctly: Are we going to get Nels and Mary involved in the design of the project? Where are we going to put the thing?
Fred's reply to the first was, "Do we need their input? At this stage of the game do they really know anything more about their needs than you and your staff do?"
"Not really. I've put three people to work researching velodromes, archery venues, and fencing venues. We figure they can easily fit together in a single facility, and we'll leave plenty of space for expansion, perhaps into other sports. I think we can build exactly what Nels and Mary need without their input."
"Do you think not consulting them will upset them?"
"You know, we can't build it without consulting them. As soon as land is purchased and a building permit sought it's going to be public knowledge. We have to inform Nels and Mary before that. We can't have them reading about it in the newspaper or seeing it talked about on television. Changes will be possible at that point, when my staff and I go over the plans with them. But you'll give them a pretty big surprise when you tell them you're going to build it now. And the publicity of the construction will generate tremendous interest in NTAC."
"You're right. Well, finish the plans. What do you suppose this is going to cost?"
"About three to four million dollars to do it right, and I know that's what you want. We won't overdo it, but we won't skimp."
"Right. I'd put Fred's Sports name on it, except that we already have that damn building called The Fred, we can't have my name on another sports venue in Grand Rapids. I think we'll call it the Northern Tier Sports Center, NTAC. Original, isn't it?"
"Who's going to own it?"
"NTAC. As in the club."
Carl and his staff did a masterful job of designing the facility. It was a big round building with a lightweight, domed, freestanding roof. Most velodromes in the world are in oval buildings and the track more or less follows the contours of the building. However, in Carl's design the oval fit into the circle, providing substantial space on either side: one side for archery and the other for fencing. The seating around a velodrome oval is almost all at the sides, because the track is banked so high on the ends that there's room for very few seats. In Carl's design, the seating was ingeniously designed to rotate, so that the seats on one side could face the velodrome track or turn and face the fencing venue. On the other side they could turn and face the archery venue. When all faced the velodrome track it would seat about 1,500 persons–as big a crowd as was ever expected at a bicycle race in Grand Forks. Underneath the entire round space was a network of offices, practice rooms, fitness facilities, and an indoor swimming pool, intended mainly for laps–no diving; there wasn't enough height.
The first question was where to put it. Land would be much cheaper and easier to acquire on the edge of town. In town it would take a full city block. Andy had been involved with Fred on this project, right from the beginning. At this point he suggested that they simply take a map, mark the university, Central High School, and Red River High School, and try to find a suitable space inside the triangle those three sites made. Fred involved a commercial real estate agent he often worked with, and a possible location was found not too far from the center of the designated triangle. The block was owned by several property owners, but only had two buildings, fairly old. The real estate agent was instructed to try to get options on the entire block. It took several weeks of negotiations, but options were acquired on all of the block except the site of one building. With options in hand for the rest of the block, Andy made a direct offer to purchase the last lot. The offer was made through his agent; the fact that the buyer would be Fred's Sports or its sponsored organization, NTAC, was kept confidential. A contract was offered, but the owner held out for more money than the property was worth.
Fred's first reaction when he heard that report was to say, "I think I should get Shel to conduct these negotiations."
Andy roared with laughter, but then said, "You know, why don't we try it?"
I'm being serious. He's the best negotiator I know. He laughed as he thought of his imagined confrontation between Shel and the building owner.
Fred's imagination was just about on target. Shel was recruited to talk to the owner of the building, and he approached him directly as representative of NTAC that wanted to buy the property. The owner was an old man who owned a number of properties in town which he rented. This building was currently rented as warehouse space, and the rents (as Shel had found out) were pretty low. The old man asked, "What this NTAC? How do you spell it?"
"N-T-A-C; it stands for the Northern Tier Sports Club."
"Who are they?"
"A group of young people interested in sports. It's a non-profit."
"They got enough money to buy this place?"
"I think so. I wouldn't be here if they didn't."
"So who are you? You're just a kid."
"I'm good friends with some of the kids in the club, and I'm the only one that's had any experience with real estate."
"What kind of experience?"
"Buying some houses."
"No, for other groups."
"You're a pretty gutsy kid, coming in here wanting to buy my building. You know, there's some damn real estate agent wants to buy it, or his client does. I don't like dealing with anonymous people. I like you. How about bringing some of the kids from this club by so I can meet them?"
"When? Tomorrow? What time? How about 4:30 after school?"
"Bring 'em by."
Shel told Nels to get himself, Mary, a couple of the Mauraders, a little kid doing fencing, and a couple of archers and be at Mr. Spencer's home at 4:30 the next day. "Have the cyclists ride their bikes over; everybody else come in an old car. Talk about the club and the need for a clubhouse. Don't mention a velodrome. Let me do all the negotiating."
They all arrived the next day, right on time. The old man, Mr. Spencer, met them and invited them into his living room. Shel introduced everyone and invited them to talk about the club and their sports. Finally Mr. Spencer asked, "So what are you going to do with the property? I assume that you're going to tear down my building."
Shel believed in being straight with people, and he responded, "We have options on all the property in the block. We're going to build a big sports center. The club is a non-profit entity, and Fred's Sports is sponsoring them. It's a wonderful project, will provide sports for a whole bunch of boys and girls, and will never make a dime, which is why it's a non-profit."
"Are you being straight with me?"
"I sure am."
"Tell me more about this sports center."
"It'll have a bicycle track, an archery range and a fencing venue. Plus fitness and practice facilities."
"You got plans?"
"Can I see them?"
"Sure. Shall I have someone come over here now with them?"
"You can do that?"
Carl was there in twenty minutes. He and Mr. Spencer spent an hour going over the plans. Nels and Mary, and the club members, were seeing them for the first time. At least Nels and Mary knew about the project and had a general idea, but I'm sure that Fred would be a little upset that this was how Nels and Mary first saw the plans, unless, of course, it helped Shel buy the property.
Then Mr. Spencer asked, "OK, what kind of money are you going to be paying to my neighbors? Truth, now."
"We've offered them $125,000 an acre. I'll make the same offer to you."
"I told the real estate agent that I wanted $160,000 an acre. I have almost two acres."
"So you'll get about a quarter of a million dollars in the deal. Put that in the bank and you'll make more than you now take in in rent."
"You're a smart kid, no wonder they sent you."
"OK, tell me straight. Do you know who the real estate agent I've been talking to represents. Are you guys connected?"
"You want it straight?"
"The real estate agent works for Fred Milson of Fred's Sports. They didn't know how to deal with your counter offer, because it was so much higher than they were going to pay other owners in the deal–per their options. I've worked with Fred before on real estate deals, and he called me. I came straight to you."
"Your name's Shel, right? How old are you, Shel?"
"You've negotiated for Fred Milson before? How old were you?"
"Fred Milson had you negotiating real estate deals at age ten?"
"It was a house that I wanted him to buy. Eventually I'm going to live in it with some other athletes I know."
"You're an athlete? What sport?"
"I'm a figure skater."
It was almost a half hour later before Mr. Spencer was finished grilling Shel about figure skating. Then he said, "Good God, look at the time. You guys have been here two and a half hours, listening to Shel and me talk about nothing in particular. Tell you what, Shel. You send that real estate agent back tomorrow with a decent contract, no fine print. Make the price $125,500 and you got a deal. I have to win something in this negotiation. And God bless you in your skating, and you guys in your sports."
Fred, Andy and their real estate agent were dumbfounded. Shel told the agent, "Make the contract, simple, straight-forward, and in the name of NTAC. I want to read it before you deliver it. And if he asks you any question, answer it truthfully and in detail. Don't hold anything back. If he gets any idea that you aren't telling the whole truth, the deal will fall through."
Fred and Andy just nodded. The next moring, before school, Shel reviewed the contract, demanded some minor changes to make it simpler, and said it was OK. The agent took it over, got a lecture from Mr. Spencer about being up front with people, had the good sense to listen and say nothing, answered a few questions, and got the contract signed in twenty minutes. He brought the contract back to Fred and said, "I really have a hard time believing all of this. The old bird was downright unpleasant to me the first times we talked, and all of a sudden he's in a good mood and letting the property go at a reasonable price. And Shel had told him that he was the last to sign, which is virtually telling him that he could hold us up. I don't get it."
"How'd you like to negotiate with Shel on the other side of the table?"
"Never. The kid's magic."
Fred later said to Andy, "Your son is incredible. You laughed when we talked about bringing Shel into this, but he accomplished what the professionals couldn't do."
Andy replied, "I gave up negotiating bed times with him years ago. Besides, he's over with Brian most of the time anyway. The four of us parents have simply learned that Shel is an extraordinary person, and he's pretty much been an additional adult in the family since he was nine or ten. Nevertheless, he was very lucky with Mr. Spencer. Not everyone would be willing to give up his negotiating advantage just because a bunch of kids want a sports club. I can't believe that Shel told him that Fred's Sports' money was behind it."
"Shel is a shrewd judge of character. He and this Spencer guy seemed to hit it off. I'll bet he and Shel stay in touch. Expect to see Mr. Spencer around the construction site."
I should point out that NTAC was the second of a number of spectacular new velodromes built in the United States. The first was the one on Stone Mountain that was built for the Atlanta Olympics. That pioneered some new construction techniques–particularly for creating the wooden racing track–that improved the quality of the track and lowered cost. Carl and his staff took advantage of what'd been learned on Stone Mountain, and added to it.
Construction started on NTAC in the summer of 1997, and it was under roof by October, so that they could keep working in the winter. It was finished early in 1998, and NTAC officially moved into NTAC on March 1, 1998. Nels and Mary were elated and exhausted with everything they'd had to accomplish before they could move in.
The building was a delight. The track was fast, fun, and designed to be as safe as could be, considering that it would carry groups of cyclists going over forty miles per hour, in close packs, on bicycles without brakes (they have direct drive, so you can slow down by pushing against the force of the pedals), over a hard wooden surface. The archery facilities were indoors, but were on a green sod lawn that was watered carefully, and lit with grow lights to supplement the light that came in through skylights in the roof. The offices, lockers, fitness equipment, pool, and two small gyms, wrestling room, and other facilities made it a spectacularly complete facility. It could support the average small college, but was to be used by a sports club that still had less than one hundred members. However, that would soon change as the facility drew people in. The new facility allowed Nels and Mary to increase their memberhsip dues, but they kept the old rates for the adventurous few that had joined before the new facility was announced.
Seeing the Marauders going around the track was spectacular. They could ride in a single file so that only the lead cyclist was having to break the wind. They'd go well over forty miles an hour, trading lead position to reduce fatigue. They could, and did, keep the pace up for two or three hours.
On one of my brief visits to Grand Forks, taking a break from sailing, I couldn't resist getting Timmy, my bow, off the wall and trying out the new range. Even at ninty meters I could still hit the target, but hitting a bulls-eye at that range was pure luck–though I did hit a few. Tim told me, "You don't have enough time to get back in shape for Olympic archery and also sail a 49er. Put the damn bow away, at least for now."
I had no dreams of going back to competitive archery, and with just a little sadness I rehung Timmy on our wall. I was glad to know that I retained at least a little of my skill. Clearly, I would never again be an Olympic archer.
Nels and Mary had watched the velodrome come to fruition–from a dream of the two of them, to a plan of action by Fred, to a piece of property negotiated for by Shel, to a concept of Carl's, to a detailed plan of Carl's staff, to a gradually completed building by the assorted workers and contractors that constructed it. Nels and Mary planned a huge grand opening, open to the entire community, with food, soft drinks, and a grand decorated cake, featuring music, dancing and entertainment, and, of course, the few speeches that were always required on such occasions. However, there were two private gatherings before the grand opening.
The first took place on the grass of the archery range. Nels and Mary
invited Fred and Marty to come to NTAC one evening a couple of days before the grand opening celebration. They walked out onto the grass, Marty hanging behind a little as had been agreed with him in advance. They each came up to Fred, kissed him on his cheeks, and began to undress him. When he was completely naked, they undressed themselves. Then they helped him down on the grass, and they knelt beside him. Very gently, slowly, sweetly, erotically, and lovingly they kissed his entire body, ending with his balls and penis, which they took turns licking. When he came, which didn't take too long, they licked up his cum and took turns kissing him, followed by whispering in his ear, "Thank you." Nothing more needed to be said. They all dressed and left as quietly as they had come in.
For the next gathering Nels and Mary issued command invitations to the entire Gang to assemble two days before their grand opening. We all came, including those still living in Michigan. Nels had numbered chairs set up in a large semicircle in the middle of the archery range. Everyone knew their number, and found their seat, leaving Nels and Mary, the only persons present who weren't formally members of the Gang. There was an unnumbered chair between seventeen and eighteen and leaning against the back of the chair was a framed photograph of Felix. Chairs twenty-eight, thirty, and thirty-four held similar pictures of Adele, Curtis, and Sam. Looking at those four chairs was difficult, particularly so for the older ones among us.
Hal stood and came to the center of the semicircle and spoke, "This whole gathering is the idea of Nels and Mary, and it is they who've invited you. They hope to accomplish three things this afternoon, and they've asked me to accomplish the first. I'm not sure why they picked me, but they did, and I'm glad to take on the task of remembering the four of our number whose pictures, rather than their persons, sit on their chairs. Felix, Adele, Curtis and Sam are sorely missed, by their families and their loved ones in the Gang. I know that they wouldn't want us to be sad that they aren't here, because they are here, in spirit and in our memories. And I know, because all of them told me at one time or another, that they consider their time as members of this Gang to be the best part of their lives. And they'd wish that for those of us here and for the next generations of the Gang to come. And so, knowing that our four departed friends would want us to get on with the business of being the Gang, I'll ask Nels and Mary to get on with the next two items of business. And I will add, that though I can guess a little, they've told me no more than that they have two different things on their minds.
Mary spoke next, and simply said, "Nels is the Child of the Gang. He's the one to speak for the two of us today. Nels."
"We're gathered in a magnificent building, one of a number of symbols of the strength and greatness of this Gang. Many of you here were directly involved in its creation, and all of you were indirectly involved, because if there were no Gang there'd be no NTAC. I tried to think of things to say, but I kept hearing Carl whispering in my ear, 'You've said it all, kid.' And guess I have. Thank you, and Mary and I love you all."
With that he started at one end of the line, with me, number one, and Tim, number two, and hugged and kissed each one of us. Mary started at the other end of line, with Harry, kissing him and moving down the line. At some point they passed, and eventually each of them had kissed each of us. It was a charming performance.
Then Nels whistled and in came all of the COGs and their partners, the residents of The Roundhouse, and the Cavers that didn't live in The Roundhouse. Bob, the oldest COG except for Willie who–along with Hardie–was already a member of the Gang, was the spokesperson. He stood in front of the rest and said, "We all hereby humbly petition to become members of the Gang. For those of us who'll be eighteen on December 15, 2000, Shel's eighteenth birthday, we petition to join on that day. The rest individually on their respective birthdays."
Tim stood and said, "Well, I guess we'd be willing to consider that. Why don't you all leave us alone to debate the matter, and then we'll invite you back."
I think they may have been a little surprised at that, but they all trooped out the door under the back of the grandstands for the velodrome. As soon as the door shut I said, "One hundred percent. Every single one. You parents did a wonderful job. Marty, you get credit for the Cavers. It's the most wonderful affirmation of the Gang that we could ask for. Anyone opposed to granting their petition, shut up; we don't want to hear from you."
Norman walked to the door, opened it for the group, and they all marched in. They were immediately greeted by warm hugs and kisses all around. Till yelled, "Meeting adjourned," and the celebration began.
It was totally unplanned, except that Nels had several cases of cold Pepsi's for everyone. He got our attention and said, "I know that a Coke toast is in order when we all join the Gang. Since we aren't joining today, we decided that it had better be Pepsi, not Coke."
Tim said, "I guess I can stand it, once."
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