reasons the Chambersburg Relays were for the Fairfield girls' track team what
the Rubicon was for Julius Caesar. It was their baptism of fire. Afterward they
were veterans. Driving back to Fairfield that afternoon they yelled and
screamed and, when we stopped at a drive-in, ate cheeseburgers, French fries
and milk shakes like a boys' track team. The mood was summed up by Robin.
" Mr. Gilbert, let's run everywhere. I'll never be frightened again."
And she hasn't been.
On the strength
of the respectable showing in Chambersburg we went, a few nights later, to a
meeting of the local PTA, asking for track shoes for the girls. The PTA was
broke but, after some politicking, agreed to reduce the gift of gowns to the
choir by three and order 10 pairs of spiked shoes. The choir director was
miffed, but the girls were as ecstatic, as if they had been given golden
slippers. The shoes were delivered on a rainy afternoon, and the girls put them
on inside, then paraded up and down the corridors, mostly walking on their
heels, leaving only a few spike marks on the floors.
said Kathy, an aspiring 13-year-old quarter miler, "I'm going to wear mine
when we have our next dance. Some guy steps on me by mistake, I'll jab him
right through his big toe."
The final step in
the making of a track team was the zebra sweat shirts. One afternoon Robin,
hand behind her back, came up to parley. "All those girls at Chambersburg
had uniforms, sort of. Can we, Mr. Gilbert?"
we'll have to get them ourselves. We can't get anything else from the
We can buy our own. Look, this only cost $2 at the Waynesboro Knitting
Mill." So saying, she whipped out her hidden treasure, a pullover that hung
just at miniskirt length and was marked with two-inch-wide, black-and-white
horizontal stripes. Suddenly all the girls appeared, teasing: "Can we, can
we? Can we get them?"
It was not
exactly the kind of costume I had had in mind, but what the hell. As Don
Sterner had advised, girls are different and need to be emotionally involved.
"Go ahead. You have to wear them, not me."
afternoon we drove the girls to the Waynesboro Knitting Mill, and they all
returned striped. The lift provided by the garish shirts was just what they
needed. After that they were, so to speak, off to the races. Two days later we
ran against girls from a suburban school near Baltimore. The school was as
large as Chambersburg, but nobody paid it no never mind. The girls swarmed out
of the bus looking like a herd of cocky zebras. As usual, when it comes to
gamesmanship, Cindy was in a class by herself. She swaggered past a wide-eyed
Maryland girl, swished her striped shirt a couple of times as if it were a mink
stole and then ostentatiously clacked her brand-new spikes under her opponent's
nose. She then went out to mop up the broad jump without even taking off her
zebra shirt. From there on it got better.
it," shrieked Linda, who had done a good bit of it all by herself.
" Fairfield won something."
Nor did the ice
cream and the ribbons end there. When school was over nobody, least of all Jim
and I, wanted to stop. The girls and some of the boys organized a club, which
they called the Fairfield Striders. They put on some dances and suppers to
raise money for travel and real uniforms. Along with all of this, they kept
coming out everyday all summer and fall to run in the pasture. Jim and I and
other parents and teachers were there, too, driving little girls to AAU track
meets all over the East, bringing them and their collection of medals back to