Early 1970s

  In 1970 the McKinley Y from Champaign, IL began to attend YMCA Nationals. Competition was fierce between the two best YMCA gymnastic teams in the country.  But off the competition floor, these girls became fast friends. Seattle team members Debbie Hall Jackson, Jill Johnson, and McKinley team member Nancy Thies met at Y Nationals.  Today they are best friends.

Linda Metheny Mulvihill from the McKinley Y attended at least two Y National Championships.  She won the all-around title in 1970 and 1971.  But for Linda, these competitions were just warm-up to Worlds and the Olympics.  She was one of the best YMCA female gymnasts.  She competed in three Olympics, 1964, 1968, and 1972, all while training at the McKinley Y.   After she stopped competing, she married her coach, Dick Mulvihill.  They moved to Oregon and started a private gym.  There she became one of the best coaches in the country.  Linda has attended several more Olympics as a brevet judge.  She judged Y Nationals in 2007 when it was held in Lakewood/Puyallup.

The challenges were difficult, but these women didn’t let it stop them. Both Linda and Nancy Thies learned back saltos on an old wooden balance beam at the McKinley Y.  Nancy performed this skill at the Munich Olympics in 1972.  This was several hours before Olga Korbet captured the world’s attention by performing it in her routine.  Nancy remembers having to wear heel cups because her feet became sore from all the practice.

During this time the number of girls competing at Y Nationals grew.  But in 1972 the number of men had dropped to 40.  Bill Buffa was concerned.  In his newsletter he wrote:  “Most of the entrants are competent gymnasts but it is evident that many don’t work out very regularly or concentrate on repeated practice of their routines.  There are problems facing men’s gymnastics today and their affect was apparent in this Championships.  Those that did compete deserve a lot of credit.”

He may have overlooked a rising star.  Bart Conner was at 1972 Y Nationals.  He placed fifth on the parallel bars.  He trained at Suburban IL Y.

In 1973 Bill Buffa did notice Bart Conner.  He wrote in his newsletter:

“One of the most improved gymnasts, since our last year’s nationals, is Bart Conner of Chicago, who, in my opinion, is one of our most promising gymnasts of the next few years.  His double twist fly-away from the horizontal bar was outstanding and smoothly executed.”

Bart Conner placed 5th in the all-around that year.  His bar routine that caught Buffa’s eye earned him a second place finish.  Bart went on to compete in the 1976 and 1984 Olympics.  He would have competed in 1980 if the US had sent a team.

What made the Seattle and McKinley teams so special?

Linda Methany - 1970, 1971

George Lewis started coaching at the Seattle Y in 1939 as a volunteer.  He was a watchmaker by trade, but he loved gymnastics.  He started coaching just boys.  By the late 1960s he was also coaching girls.  One of these girls was Dale McClements.  She was the first of his girls to win a national (AAU) title – in 1962.  She was also his first Olympic gymnast.  She was part of the US 1964 team. 

George took his girls to the best competitions he could find.  They went to AAU and Canadian Nationals along with Y Nationals.  Girls came from all over the country to train with him.  George had a very positive attitude.

Joyce Tanac Schroeder remembers him saying “why worry, because it will turn out the same if you worry or not!”  If the girls learned a new move he’d say, “Folgers Coffee!!!”  Then they’d know they had it right. Joyce doesn’t remember him ever yelling.  Debbie Halle Jackson was the Y National Champion in 1974, the last year the Seattle Y entered.  Right after winning, she tore her ACL in her left knee trying a new skill on bars.  Eight months later she was ready to work out again.  For her first dismount she was nervous.  George told her to call to him if she needed him to catch her.  She didn’t need his help.  When she landed he lifted her up and told her how proud he was.  She still remembers how secure and supported he made her feel.  George retired from coaching in 1974.  Seattle hosted Y Nationals that year. It was also the last year the Seattle Y won a Y National title.

Dick Mulvihill coached at the McKinley Y until 1973.  He was a coach for the 1968 US Olympic team.  Three of his gymnasts were on that team.  Linda Metheny, his daughter Colleen Mulvihill, and Diane Bolin was the alternate.  In 1970, he brought his team to Y Nationals.  Nancy Thies remembers her coach as “all business  … or at least he worked hard at making us think he was serious.  I know we accomplished so much more than we ever would have without his coaching … and I will forever be grateful to Dick Mulvihill for his ability to bring out the best in his gymnasts.”

Dick moved to Oregon in 1973.  He started a private club.  Many girls moved to Oregon to train with him, leaving their families.  Dick’s mother ran a boarding house for them.  For many years his club was one of the best in the country.  He trained many more girls to Olympic teams.

1971 Seattle Team
Debbie Halle - 1972
1972 Seattle Team