‘A LOCAL TREASURE”
by Bruce A. Davis
Bill Roetzheim’s father, took young Bill to the premier showing of a film about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Bill wanted to become a gymnast. Bill’s father enrolled him at the Southside Turners where he developed his gymnastic skills. At age 18, Bill became the youngest American male gymnast in history to make an Olympic team.
Already an Olympian, Bill wanted to attend the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana for his Junior year after two years at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier. in a freak ruling, the University of Illinois decided that the Navy Pier location was a separate entity to the Champaign/Urbana campus and athletes would have to wait out for one year before becoming eligible. Bill, who had previously been noticed and recruited by FSU coach, Dr. Hartley Price, decided to attend Florida State University where there was no transfer penalty and he would have immediate athletic eligibility. Roetzheim spent five years at Florida State competing and earning a Master’s degree and was the dominate point scorer on FSU’s NCAA Championship team of 1951.
Financially strapped, the United States sent one gymnast, Bill Roetzheim, to the first Pan American Games held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1951. Bill won the competition and decided to go sightseeing the next day with another gold medalist who had also completed competition. Stan Stanczyk, the 1948 Olympic gold medalist weightlifter from the Miami area, asked Bill to photograph him with Bills camera. The picture was a “staged shot” of an Argentiriian soldier pointing a rifle at Stanczyk. In 1951 the Argentinian dictator Juan Peron was in power and armed military presence was on display for the entire Pan Am Games. Peron was sympathetic to the Axis powers of Germany and Italy. Perhaps Bill’s childhood memories of that 1936 Olympic movie of Hitler’s Germany somehow did not make this whole Pan American Games scene appear abnormal. Unfortunately for Bill
Roetzheim. the military authorities had observed the photo session and dispatched armed soldiers to board the train that Bill and Stanczyk had just departed on. Bill tried the “old switch-a-rue”. He did not want to give up his film roll. After all, that same roll of film had a picture of “Mr. Wheaties”. American Bob Richards, the world record pole vault champion setting a new world record. Needless to say Bill did not get away with it. His film and camera were confiscated: he and Stanczyk were held over night and interrogated by Argentinian authorities. The next day the American Consulate rescued Bill and sent him to Chile by train and quickly hack to Tallahassee. Bill had inadvertently triggered an international incident. The Tampa Tribune headlines indicated that the FBI was using athletes to spy on Peron and friends! Bill can also remember the Russians, who were not yet members of the Olympic movement in 1948. He and other American athletes were caught completely off guard when the
Russians (USSR) entered and competed equally with the United States in the 1952 Olympics. He remembers the “unofficial and press contrived” scoreboard at a popular Helsinki department store, changing the rank order of the USSR and USA teams, indicating that the communist country had won more overall medals than the USA. Yes, the cold war was on, Bill and other formerly dominate American athletes were seeing it first hand!
I could tell stories about Bill Roetzheim that would fill a book. How he met Jim Thorpe. and the beautiful “Evita”. Eva Peron. How he came to sleep in cowboy movie star Joel McCrea’s hunk. How he knocked himself out between vaults during the national AAU Championships. How he and Olympic teammate Frank Cumiskey had to pick out a new side horse to compete on in London when the US equipment was disqualified for being two inches too short on one end in measurement. How. while coaching at the University of Illinois. his gymnasts
would disconnect the speedometers on college vehicles so he could take his team to more distant competitions and the “beach” in Miami, Florida when he was supposed to only go to Atlanta. Georgia. The sunburned bodies were hard to explain hack in Chicago!
More importantly, however; Bill was a two time Olympian (‘48 & ‘52), 14 time National AAU & NCAA Champion. successful high school (Proviso H.S.) and college coach ( University of Illinois at Chicago Circle). an innovative college athletic director ( University of Ill at Chicago Circle), an expert gymnastic judge. and a member of the Federation of International Gymnastics (FIG)Technical Committee from 1984 to 1996. Bill resides with his wife. BJ in Plant City, Florida and is “A Local Treasure.”
Bruce A. Davis, Professor Emeritus Miami Dade College, Director of Flip Flops & Fitness gymnastics school of Apollo Beach.
Publisher of www.Letstalkgymnastics.com Can be contacted at: (813)641-3375 or Brucedavis56@verizon.net