Jeff Jardine

Oakdale couple offers flag-waving fanfare to Special Olympics ceremony

Corky Chapman, at his home in Oakdale on Wednesday, holds Olympic flags he will donate at the Special Olympics torch procession Thursday.
Corky Chapman, at his home in Oakdale on Wednesday, holds Olympic flags he will donate at the Special Olympics torch procession Thursday.

As Los Angeles geared up for the Summer Olympics in 1984, so did Corky Chapman.

The 1955 Modesto High graduate owned Corky Chapman and Associates, a company that generated point-of-purchase advertising for all kinds of products, including video games from Activision and Atari.

His brainstorm? To produce hand-held flags bearing the five Olympic rings and the 1984 Games logo with its “star in motion” to sell as souvenirs outside the Coliseum in downtown Los Angeles. Chapman spent $50,000 to acquire licensing rights, promising to pay additional royalties based on sales. Then he ordered nearly 1 million of the 4-by-6-inch flags that were – get this – made in America, by a company in Chicago.

“As part of the deal, we had to keep four kiosks open outside the Coliseum about 20 hours a day during the games, and for a couple of weeks before and after,” the 78-year-old Oakdale resident said. Between what he sold and what he gave out free to kids, Chapman said he dispensed more than 700,000 flags.

He turned a nice little profit even though about 275,000 remained unsold when the Olympic flame died and the two-week-long games flickered out as well. He and wife Susie paid to store them – 3,600 to a box in some cases and 500 in others – in Alameda, where they lived until returning to the Valley several years ago.

So what’s a person to do with 275,000 flags from an Olympic Games more than three decades in the rear-view mirror?

One of their neighbors’ children participated in the Special Olympics. They began donating to that cause along with other sporting events over the years, including track meets for underprivileged kids at Mt. San Antonio College in Southern California. He handed out 30,000 at the Atlanta Games in 1996.

“Since 1984, he’s had a heck of a good time handing out flags,” wife Susie said.

Indeed, he’s whittled the stack down to a mere 76,000 or so. That’s still a lot of flags.

Now, more than three decades later, some of those little banners could soon return to the Coliseum.

Thursday morning, the Law Enforcement Torch Run comes to Modesto’s Tenth Street Place for a ceremonial stop on the torch’s voyage to Los Angeles for the Special Olympics that begin July 25 in the 83-year-old stadium. The hourlong event here commences at 10:45 a.m. Then, the torch and its entourage will head to Fresno, Visalia and other points south. It’s part of a huge annual fundraising event nationwide for Special Olympics, and one that has generated more than $100 million worldwide since 1981.

So the Chapmans offered three boxes – roughly 11,000 flags – to the Modesto police for distribution locally. Those flags will be handed out to folks attending the ceremony or in the downtown, to be waved for all to see.

“The boxes are collapsing, but the flags are still usable,” Corky Chapman said.

Even so, the donation made only a small dent in the Chapmans’ inventory. Corky Chapman called me Wednesday morning, wondering how to get in touch with the folks in Modesto who are organizing Thursday’s ceremony. A few minutes later, he received a call from Bruce Lockard, the city of Modesto recreation supervisor who is organizing the downtown ceremony. Chapman told Lockard he wants to offer 11 boxes – more than 39,000 flags in all – for the Torch Run contingent to distribute as it heads through the Valley and as far south as San Diego before turning back toward Los Angeles for the games.

“I immediately called (NorCal organizer) John Hohmann,” Lockard said. “They are excited to get them.”

He’ll introduce Hohmann, a retired police lieutenant from Scotts Valley, to the Chapmans.

“The plan is to meet up with (Lockard) at 10 a.m.,” Susie Chapman said. “It’s such a wonderful event and we’re happy to be involved. Hopefully, people will come to appreciate them and take them to the Special Olympics.”

If so, the flags that weren’t dispensed at the Los Angeles Summer Games of 1984 might find their way back to the Coliseum, with more out-of-the-box thinking making them relevant once again.

Said Corky, “Maybe after 31 years, they’ll finally find a home.”