Robin," piped Juanita in her teeny-weeny Alice in Wonderland voice,
"just think, the faster we run the sooner we can get off the
Ann and I each got an arm and together we dragged our reluctant anchor girl
toward the field. The girls momentarily were cheered when they were admitted
free through the competitors' gate, the first time that had happened to any of
them, but panic settled in again when we got to the field and they saw the
spectators in the grandstand.
thousands of people [there actually were about 500]," Robin whispered in a
strangled voice. "Look at them. They're all looking at me."
We did not dwell
on the crowd as long as we might have, since we shortly found the corner of the
field where the other girls' relay teams had congregated. The others were from
big cities like Chambersburg, Gettysburg and Biglerville. They were wearing
real uniforms (the day before my wife had dyed T shirts green for our girls)
and real track shoes. They were all enormous and busy making brisk exchanges
with the relay baton. The Fairfield girls huddled together, shivering.
"Now go on
out and loosen up," I ordered in a sort of let's-show-the-flag voice.
just wait," said Robin. And that they did, like four death-row inmates.
There is an
ancient saw in sports that every coach has used or tried to use at one time or
another in the interest of building confidence in timid performers. It runs:
"Look, they put on their pants just like you do, one leg at a time." I
decided to bowdlerize this clich� and put it to immediate use. "Look, these
girls comb their hair just like you do. They're just girls like you
not," said honest Ann. "They are twice as big as we are and a lot
speaking, she was right. As Don Sterner had said, the other teams were made up
of high school juniors and seniors, and big ones at that. Even our two
14-year-olds, Juanita and Robin, small for their age, were tiny in comparison
to their opponents, while 11-year-old Linda, our lead-off runner, was
absolutely dwarfed by the muscular, buxom 17-year-old who had lined up beside
"Just run as
hard as you can, and give Juanita the baton when you get there. That's all you
have to remember." I gave my last counsel and then slipped away, thinking
it would not help the girls at all if their coach were to be sick in front of
thousands and thousands of people who were all watching him. The enormity of
the mismatch suddenly had become apparent to me. Was it possible for a team to
be lapped in a 440 relay on a 440 track? Would Robin run the wrong way? What
had I got these trusting little girls into? This was the end of the girls'
track team. It would not survive such a humiliation. Things worked out better
than any of us expected they would. There was a bad start, which was entirely
the fault of a meatheaded official who, at the moment, I would gladly have
executed with his own starting gun. Linda was left 25 feet behind at the post,
but incredibly that tiny little thing, once she began to run, made up ground on
the big girls in front of her. Petite Juanita and solid Ann held their own, and
when Robin got the baton she was only five yards behind. Instead of fainting
she gritted her chipmunk teeth and ran a 13-second 100, which is good for any
14-year-old and was half a second faster than she had ever run before. The
girls didn't win, but they were anything but disgraced.