NORMAN — Olympic Gold medalist Bart Conner had a hard act to follow at Thursday night’s Oklahoma Hall of Fame banquet and induction ceremony in Tulsa. Federal Judge Lee West had left the black-tie audience laughing with homespun humor and self-deprecating remarks that shocked even his fellow jurists.
So Conner did the only thing he could to out-do his fellow inductee: He did a handstand right there in his tuxedo and tails.
“In the 85-year history of the hall of fame no one has done a handstand during their acceptance speech,” Conner said. “That’s the only way to follow Judge West is to do a handstand.”
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Conner, a Norman resident since coming to the University of Oklahoma in 1976, was one of 7 Oklahomans honored. He was introduced by Timothy P. Shriver, chairman and CEO of Special Olympics and the son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, introduced Conner.
“Bart just exudes the power of life. Bart believes nobody should be excluded,” he said, telling of a bowling match in Mexico against Bart and a Special Olympics athlete. The athlete was crying because he was enjoying the moment so much.
“When we’re with Bart, we never want the day to end,” Shriver said. “I know all of us are happy to be in a world that includes Bart Conner.”
Other honorees were Stan Clark, Stillwater, founder of Eskimo Joe’s; Tom Ward, founder of SandRidge energy; Suzanne Warren, a Tulsa philanthropist; Federal Judge Lee R. West of Edmond; Dr. Ronald H. White, cardiologist and longtime OU and State Regent and Edith Kinney Gaylord, posthumously honored, for her journalism and charitable giving.
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Conner, 54, the final inductee, joked that he is known internationally as the husband of Romanian Olympic Champion Nadia Comaneci. Of the 11 Olympic medals in their home, nine belong to Nadia.
He thanked his parents, Harold and the late Jackie Conner, for never telling him to stop doing handstands around the house and for encouraging him along the journey. He said he hopes to instill the same creativity and sense of possibility in his son Dylan.
He thanked his former coach and current business partner Paul Ziert for recruiting him to Norman from Morton Grove, Illinois and praised the efforts of OU President David L. Boren and athletic director Joe Castiglione to instill integrity in Sooner sports. For his wife, Nadia, he used a gymnastics reference.
“Thank you for making my life a true perfect 10.”