There is little doubt that during the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s, Hal Holmes was considered by most gymnastic enthusiasts to be the greatest tumbler in the world. Had tumbling been a separate event or if Hal Holmes had been a FX competitor, he would have dazzled audiences with his layout full twist, flip-flop, double-back combination at both Olympic and World Championship levels, and if he’d stayed with it until 1964, the world would have seen a pass on the big square that featured a double-back with a full twist on the first somersault. It’s a sports highlight tumbling move called a “Flifis”. (Click to see Hal learning and perfecting the Flifis.) His tumbling was always high, powerful, and difficult. He floated through the air landing with perfect balance and poise, just the way he lived his life.
Hal Holmes started his gymnastics at Charlie Pond’s, 1966 GHOF Inductee, Palaestrum. It was an off-campus private school for tumbling and trampoline, and Hal got the “bug” in 1951. The facility was an old roller skating rink above a bank near downtown Champaign. By the time Hal competed in high school, he was moving toward what used to be called “bounder fronts,” and “whip backs” at least one with a full twist – double-backs, and double twists all on a 60 ft. by 5 ft. wide and about 4 in. thick horsehair mat that was compressed by heavy use. It was rolled up to move. He ended his 3rd of 4 passes with a double twisting layout, but this ending combination was not uncommon. Hal’s first pass was unique. He was the first to execute a round-off, flip-flap, back with a full twist, flip-flap, double back. Illinois State High School Championships: Gold-TU, (1957 & ‘59). As an aside, Hal and Ray Hadley, an excellent gymnast from New Trier High School in Chicago, were disqualified in 1958 because they attended the annual gymnastics clinic in Sarasota, Florida. Hal states, “It was too bad for Ray because he was a senior and probably would have won the AA.” Big Ten Conference Championships: Gold-TU, (1961, ’62, & ’63). NCAA Gymnastic Championships: Hal missed the 1961 NCAA competition with a case of pneumonia that hospitalized him, but the following two years, he dominated the tumbling mats, winning Silver-TU representing the U. of Illinois and coached by Charlie Pond, Albuquerque, NM, (1962) and Gold-TU, University of Massachusetts, (1963). National AAU Championships: Gold-TU, (1959, ’60, ’61, & ’62). USGF National Championships: Gold-TU, Chicago, IL, (1963). Pan American Games: Gold-TU, Silver-TR, Chicago, IL, (1959). At this international competition, Hal agreed to compete in “Club Swinging” in order to fill the minimum number of four competitors needed to include the event in the competition. Hal and Ron Munn practiced the night before the competition “ . . . ‘til they had blisters on their hands,” and competed the next day. One of them had to get the bronze medal since there were only four competitors, but it wasn’t Hal’s day, so he settled for the two other event medals. As an aside, this was the first “Pam Ams” to be held outside Latin America. These Games were originally scheduled for Cleveland, OH, but when the U.S. Congress decided to cut $5,000,000 in federal funding, Cleveland withdrew its bid, and the “Windy City” hosted the competition. Hal qualified for the 1963 Pan Ams in TU, but the event was discontinued after 1959, ostensibly because, with the exception of “Club Swinging”, the USA had dominated these “special” events since they were first introduced into international competition. Hal made the team but not the trip. Being First: Hal Holmes was the first to complete a tumbling move called a Flifis; however, military service called, and he never executed it in competition. Even as Charlie Pond said the move couldn’t be done, he was helping Hal the best he could with some hand spotting and Pond’s patented twisting belt, and, one day, Hal was ready. He made the “flifis” on his own with about 50 spectators watching. According to the News Gazette, Champaign, IL, the April 23, 1963 edition sports headlines read, “Holmes Masters Gym’s ‘Impossible Trick’.” The Sports Editor and writer, Ed O’Neil described the move as, “ . . . a launch into a powerful upward surge. Still on the rise, he did a full spin or pirouette and immediately launched into two backward somersaults before he came down lightly on the mat and kept his balance.” The Daily Illini had front-page headlines on May 9, 1963. “Holmes Performs ‘Impossible’ Somersault.” On May 15th, Holmes received a congratulatory letter from Frank L. Bare, who became the Executive Director of the USGF. Mr. Bare had read Ed O’Neil’s description of the move and agreed that it was the “ . . . impossible trick . . .” and continued by writing that “ . . . it is very fitting that this stunt should have been accomplished first by you, whom all of us in this country feel rank as unquestionably the world’s best tumbler, and also equally fitting that it should happen at the University of Illinois and in Champaign, Illinois. I know that coach Pond and his very capable assistant Don Leas are justifiably proud of your performance as well they should be.” Education: B.S., (1964); M.S., (1968); Ph.D., (1969). All degrees were completed at the University of Illinois. Military Service: After taking Navy ROTC classes at the U. of Illinois, Hal served on the USS Allagash AO-97 as combat information center officer and qualified as officer of the deck (refueling and fleet) for two years at the rank of Lt. (j.g.), 1964-’66. Professional: In 1969, Hal joined the faculty at Eastern Kentucky University and retired Professor Emeritus in 1999. Honors: Selected by the largest student voting turnout in the school’ history, Hal Holmes was voted Athlete of the Year at the U. of Illinois, (1963); Inducted into Urbana High School Athletics Hall of Fame; Inducted into World Acrobatic Society Gallery of Honor; Chosen for membership in Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership organization; Awarded University of Illinois Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Commandant’s Cup “ . . . in recognition of that midshipman who has contributed most to the furtherance of athletics and sportsmanship in the NROTC battalion”, (1963); Received the George Huff Award for proficiency in scholarship and athletics at the U. of Illinois, (1963 & ’64); Awarded National Defense Education Act, Title IV fellowship for graduate study at the U. of Illinois, (1966-1969); Received the Mid-America Gymnastics Judges Association State Award, (1979-‘80, 1980-‘81, & 1983-‘84); Awarded the Ohio High School Athletic Association Meritorious Award, (1983-‘84 & 1984-‘85); Received the Merit Award from KAHPERD, (1993); Charter member World Acrobatic Society. Anecdote: Dicki Browning, 2002 Gymnastics HOF Inductee, received national publicity when he began soaring over the high jump bar at over 7’ taking off on two feet rather than the required single foot. He would place a towel on the ground where he wanted to start his half tuck layout over the bar, and mark his starting point from the towel; however, he broke the bar. Hal Holmes picked up Browning’s shattered high jump bars and for the longest time, it lay undisturbed in Hal’s scrapbook. (Refer to Browning’s bio. to see his high jump technique). Judge: Hal received a National level Certification for judging men’s and boy’s gymnastics, (1974 to 1986). He judged age group, junior high school, high school and college meets including state high school championship meets in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, collegiate meets in Kentucky and surrounding states, Big Ten championship meets, NCAA regional qualifying meets, and the National Sports Festival in Colorado Springs at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Family: (m) Kathy Lowry, retired from Eastern Kentucky University. Children: Beth Holmes-Ward. Grandchildren: Wyatt Patrick Ward.