Most of us have seen a few minutes of the London Olympic Games and probably at least one medal ceremony.
There’s something special about the medal ceremony, even in a country possessed by the devil of “political correctness.”
It’s safe to say most of us have never been on the Olympics medal stand.
One of ours has been there and done that.
Jerry Shipp knows that feeling. He was on that stand 48 years ago in Tokyo when the United States basketball team knocked off the Russians to win the coveted gold medal.
That was when America and Russia hated each other and admitted it. Now we just hate each other and try to finesse it. Political correctness, you know.
Fans in Bryan County remember Shipp when he was a Warrior at Blue High School. That was after 16 years in an orphan’s home.
The man doesn’t freely offer comments. After some coaxing, Shipp said, “Standing on the medal stand, having that medal put around your neck, hearing the National Anthem and seeing the American flag raised – I and all of my teammates were just so proud.
“We were so proud of our country and proud to represent it. In our case the Russians were standing on our left after we had beaten them. There was no love between America and Russia and that was a sweet win.
“If this doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, there something wrong with you.”
For Shipp, it was the end of his superlative career, the final deal and he knew it. He had a no-cut professional basketball contract in hand, but didn’t sign it.
“Anybody can have a dream,” Shipp said. “You don’t have to be from a big city or a major school. You just have to be willing to work and learn. The hardest thing is working out alone.
“My teammates might be out with friends or shopping or something. I was always crawling through a window to get into the gym. It wasn’t always easy or fun, but it was certainly worthwhile.”
He grew up with a dream of playing pro baseball. He was throwing fastballs clocked at 95 miles per hour back in the early to mid-’50s until he grew to 6-7 and discovered he had a “little ability” on the basketball court.
Shipp described it as a “little ability.” He has always been about “doing” instead of “saying.”
“My (adopted) parents, Ed and Ozella Shipp, gave me the opportunity. Coach (Bloomer) Sullivan, Southeastern and some truly great teammates did the rest.
“That’s why I have such an allegiance to Southeastern.”
Basketball in the Olympics today is much different than the game Shipp played. Free throws were a rarity at that time, coming only when a player was fouled in the act of shooting and then only if the shot was missed.
The ball was just taken out of bounds on all other fouls. There was no half-court line and no three-point line. Shipp led the U.S. in scoring and also captained the team. With the 3-point line, he might have averaged 30 points a game.
“Defense was a priority,” Shipp said. “You didn’t want anyone scoring on you. Now they need five basketballs on the court. I really don’t watch it the way it is now.”
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics: A long time ago and a long way from home for the boy from Blue, population 100.
Shipp’s Gold Medal from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is on display in Bloomer Sullivan Arena on the Southeastern campus. It is there to show youngsters that tough beginnings can be overcome, that with hard work and dedication dreams really can come true.
Jerry Shipp made us all proud then and he makes us all proud now.