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THANK HEAVEN FOR....
Bil Gilbert
November 27, 1967
When it was formed last spring the Fairfield girls' track team ran in worn sneakers in a pasture and was coached by two volunteers who didn't know how to make a stopwatch stop. Now the team has real uniforms and has won a meet in New York, while the coaches have learned a lot about little girls
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November 27, 1967

Thank Heaven For....

When it was formed last spring the Fairfield girls' track team ran in worn sneakers in a pasture and was coached by two volunteers who didn't know how to make a stopwatch stop. Now the team has real uniforms and has won a meet in New York, while the coaches have learned a lot about little girls

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"Oh, Robin," piped Juanita in her teeny-weeny Alice in Wonderland voice, "just think, the faster we run the sooner we can get off the track."

Juanita tugged, 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.

"There are 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.

"We'd rather 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´┐Ż and put it to immediate use. "Look, these girls comb their hair just like you do. They're just girls like you are."

"No they're not," said honest Ann. "They are twice as big as we are and a lot older."

Technically 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 her.

"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.

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