When Bob O'Dell was a member of Gamma Phi Circus at Illinois State Normal University, he fell 20 feet to the hard surface while at the end of his Flying Trapeze routine performed at halftime of a basketball game.
That was the last time O'Dell was to fall short of any goal. But not the last time he was to see stars.
O'Dell, a Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt, was here recently to introduce fellow ISNU athlete and student, Marty Rademacher, who was being inducted into the College of Business and Science Hall of Fame.
And O'Dell did shed light on what has puzzled most of us since that infamous Wesleyan-ISNU football game mud fight at the IWU Stadium in 1958. He informed us that Rademacher initiated the fight that involved everyone on both sides.
Rademacher, who was the guest of honor at an informal lunch at the Lake Bloomington home of Fred and Lois Mills, admitted that he tangled with Wesleyan end Luther Bedford and was outnumbered when a big IWU tackle joined the argument.
O'Dell recalls best the sight of ISNU line coach Carl Heldt, standing at midfield with his hand over his heart while both bands played the National Anthem in an attempt to defuse the situation.
"That said so much for the man," said O'Dell, who, like all ISNU athletes, loved Heldt.
O'Dell, who insists he was not a great athlete, has reached lofty heights in his role as a prime innovator for the Hubble Telescope. His current research interests are the star formation in the Orion Nebula Cluster and the Structure and Evolution of Planetary Nebulae.
O'Dell came out of Cahokia with the intention of playing football at ISNU. "My high school coach contacted Coach Ed Struck and Marty and I were invited to pre-season practice," said O'Dell. "We stayed in the barracks at the old Cardinal Court.
"I truly loved football at ISNU. But, I spent the second semester of my sophomore year and that summer at the University of Illinois as an Aero Engineering student. I decided that I did not want to become an engineer and I returned to ISNU.
"However, I was considered to be a transfer student and could only play jayvee ball as a junior. I played fullback on the jayvees and that was fun after being a lineman until then. The trouble was that I enjoyed running over people more than avoiding them.
"I decided not to go out my senior year, although I would have been awarded a courtesy letter. I didn't think I would play much and I did not want to back into a letter. Marty bulked up about 25 pounds and I never did."
O'Dell recalled those daily practice skirmishes with senior guard Paul Brush. We discussed the time Brush was sent to the doctor because of a badly bruised right hand. The doctor discovered a bit of someone's tooth in Brush's knuckle.
"Paul always had bloody knuckles," said O'Dell. "You just had to stand there and slug it out with him. ISNU football was a bloody sport played by amateurs."
O'Dell was on the swimming team as a freshman, but then gave up the sport.
He graduated in three and one-half years with a math minor and a physical science major, which, at that time, meshed chemistry and physics.
O'Dell worked about 15 hours per week while attending school and his duties included being an assistant cook at Fell Hall. "I earned about half of my expenses," he said. "At that time, most of the athletes were among the better students on campus."
During his junior year, O'Dell grew a beard, a rarity in those days.
"I knew Arley Gillette (the Gamma Phi sponsor) did not like it, although he did not say anything," said O'Dell. "The day before Gamma Phi's first official appearance, I shaved off the beard.
"I put the shavings in an envelope and presented it to Coach Gillette. He smiled and I knew he was relieved."
Jim Barnhart is the retired sports editor of The Pantagraph. Contact him at email@example.com