Before she could flip herself, she first had to flip others.
And because that plan worked so well, she’ll be inducted into the Stivers Athletic Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon.
Charlotte Bowman-Babcock — when she went to the storied Fifth Street school in the mid-1960s — talked about that as she sat with her husband, Jim, at the dining room table of their Harrison Township home the other evening.
After her parents moved to Dayton in the early 1950s from Overton County, Tennessee — where, by the way, her grandfather was a moonshiner and a coal miner — Charlotte and her six siblings moved from house to house around the East End.
With her dad rarely in the picture — often living and working back in Tennessee — she said the bulk of the parental duties fell on her mother, Velma, who at times felt overwhelmed.
“My mother was loving and sweet and she was a good homemaker who could make do with nothing,” Charlotte said. “But she had so many kids to look after and so much to do that there wasn’t a lot of time for other things.”
She said her parents never saw her take part in any school activities: “I never really had that feeling that, ‘Hey, you’re doing a great job!’”
But that changed when she got to Stivers High School in the fall of 1964.
She had shown an affinity for tumbling and the trampoline in grade school and once she got into her freshman physical education class, she said those capabilities were spotted by the teacher, Janet Nicely:
“She watched me loosening up before class and she said, ‘Have you ever considered gymnastics? I’m going to suggest you talk to Joe Sullivan (gymnastics coach). I think you have talent and some real promise.’
“I was so excited that she thought that. I’d never had anyone say that to me before.”
Sullivan convinced her to join his gymnastics class.
“When I got there I saw all these wonderful people doing these great things and I got so excited I could hardly stand it,” she said. “In the old gym they showed you the more intricate moves using a pulley and a rope so you could fly through the air safely. I felt like Peter Pan.”
Invited to join the Flying Tigers team, she first needed workout clothes.
“My mother said, ‘Charlotte, I know you want to do all these wonderful things and I’m all for it, but we can’t afford that,’” she remembered. “She said, ‘You’ll have to figure out a way to buy whatever you need.’”
And Charlotte did just that.
“I’d learned to fix people’s hair by the time I was 12,” she said. “I had practiced on my older sisters and pretty soon I had five older women from my neighborhood who were regular customers.
“They’d come to my house and most wanted an ‘up’ hairdo. The higher the better and with lots of curls. That was the craze.
“They wanted a flip, a fancy, teasing, bouffant flip like Jackie Kennedy had. Everybody wanted to be like her.
“I’d make anywhere from $5 to $8 a person and they’d come almost weekly.”
With her money she not only paid for her gymnastics leotards and workout shoes, but also bought her daily lunches and got the sweaters and shoes she needed for her three years as a cheerleader.
While also on the student council, the prom court and a class officer, she was especially celebrated as a gymnast.
She was Dayton’s city champion in the trampoline and the floor exercise, was second in the vault and, as a senior, finished fifth in the state in the trampoline.
While at Stivers, Charlotte caught the eye of the late Roz Young, a longtime teacher, author and, for a quarter-century, a columnist at the Dayton Journal Herald and the Daily News.
Charlotte said Young spotted her in a study hall she monitored:
“I always worked hard in there so I could free myself up in the evenings to do gymnastics. And she said, ‘Young lady, I notice you always working so hard. That’s really commendable.’
“She asked me about my family and if I was taking any college preparatory classes. I told her, ‘No,’ and she said if I had any hopes of college I should be taking those courses.”
College was a foreign prospect to Charlotte. Her dad had just a third grade education and her mom went to school until eighth grade. No one in the family had ever gone to college and besides, there was no money to do so anyway.
“Roz helped me get in the proper classes and told me we were going to talk every week about my future,” Charlotte said. “She became my mentor.”
With her older sisters and some teammates pushing her academically, Charlotte became the Scholar Athlete of the Year at Stivers in 1968 and — thanks to Roz’s influence — won a $10,000 college scholarship.
She headed to Tennessee Tech, but once there was stunned to find out the gymnastics team was only for men, not women.
And during that first semester, her mother’s health failed, too.
“I loved my mother — she was my rock — but she got very ill,” Charlotte said. “I couldn’t concentrate so I finally came back home.
“My mom had a nervous disorder — lots of anxiety — and to this day I think a lot of it had to do with all her hard luck.”
Once back home, Charlotte was offered a job at the Dayton Daily News, where she’d first worked part time as a 16-year-old high school student.
Back at the newspaper, she soon ran into Roz Young.
“I felt I had let her down and myself, too,” Charlotte admitted.
She said Young sat her down and offered some more sound advice:
“She said, ‘I’m not going to tell you I’m not disappointed because I am. I think you could have really gone far.’ She said life was about choices and if I wanted to work at the paper, I had to put 100 percent into it.”
And that’s what she did.
Charlotte rose up the ranks at the newspaper, eventually becoming executive administrative assistant to the vice president of advertising
She retired in 2009 after a 42-year association with the newspaper.
‘It’s almost surreal’
Early in her career, while working at the classified ads counter in the lobby, she often noticed a reporter — Jim Babcock — walking past to a nearby pay window.
“He had long hair, I thought he looked so weird,” she laughed. “He had two suits – one was electric blue and one was electric green – and both looked like hell.”
The two never spoke, but one day – after not being around for a while – he reappeared with a new look.
“He had shorter hair and a regular shirt on and he looked really cute,” she said. “I went up in my brazen way and said, ‘Where you been?’ He looked flabbergasted.”
He told her he’d been on vacation with his little daughter, Lisa. He said he was divorced and eventually asked her out on a date.
“No one ever took me anywhere fancy – it was always the Dixie Drive-In or something like that – but Jim took me to the Cincinnati Jazz Concert at Crosley Field. I was so excited. This was way out of my realm of anything.”
She remembers two guys there sitting behind them, drinking alcohol out of brown paper bags.
“Nina Simone was getting ready to perform and one of the old guys was sort of passed out. That’s when his buddy says, ‘Wake up, Charlie! Wake up! The world’s gonna pass you by!’
“And old Charlie jumped up like nothing happened.”
Jim and Charlotte married in 1971. They have two children — Darius and Kaslin are both Stivers grads — and now have five young grandchildren.
When informed she’d be one of the enshrinees at Sunday’s gala Hall of Fame luncheon– emceed by Bill Hosket Jr. and Don Donoher at the Presidential Banquet Center (starting at noon, open to the public, for tickets call 937-725-2976) – Charlotte said she had a mix of emotions:
“It’s almost surreal. I’m thrilled, but at first I wondered if I was really worthy. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realized I did do some good things there. I had a wonderful experience at Stivers.”
Just like old Charlie, she hadn’t let the world pass her by.
Not then, not after.
Roz Young would approve.
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