Spring sports season at School in a Soybean Field switches the focus from random play and basketball to track and field. The seventh grade and social studies teacher, Jack, is also the all-sports coach for the seventh and eighth grade boys. The school is tiny, but we have some fine specimens of farm-grown boys. Some of them think they can run, and even fewer of them are right.
Today's story is about track, but it is more about Rosetta. Rosetta is an eighth grader. She is an average eighth grader in almost all respects. Average height, average weight, ordinary well-scrubbed average looks, average scholastic record; this girl is average. This may seem a non sequitur, inserted here as it is, but trust me, it is germane. In the day girls who attended SiSF wore dresses, or skirts and blouses or sweaters. They did not wear jeans, slacks, or shorts.
On the north side of our playground, the coach, the math teacher and I laid out a track. It was a one-sixth mile oval. This was the largest oval we could lay out in the allotted space, so the mile run was six laps and the quarter-mile finish line was well beyond the starting point. You did pick up on the fact that the kids ran 100 yards, not meters, 440 yards, not 400 meters and so forth, because this was truly back in the day.
Many times at recess impromptu races took place on the track, sometimes a mass of kids, sometimes a challenge race. The thing is, Rosetta could run. Rosetta was not an average runner. Rosetta could outrun everyone in the school, even the star track men, over any distance, your choice. In the dashes, she flew out of the blocks like a ball off the head of Arnie Palmer's driver. In the distance runs, she could pace herself perfectly and "kick" at exactly the right moment. Defeat was not an option, and she considered any place but first place to be a defeat. The boys were chagrined. They were suffering the sting of humiliation dished out by a mere girl, not realizing that in a matter of a year or two things would happen to their adolescent bodies which would enable some of them to leave Rosetta in the dust.
Well, Title IX at this point was a mere dream in the minds of women who thought that they were suffering ill-treatment in the realm of school athletics; and it would be yet three decades before Patsy Mink was elected to Congress. That Rosetta could participate in interscholastic meets was nothing more than a strong "I wish" in the minds of the coach, and Rosetta. But she was a loyal fan, and would show up at all the meets to cheer her classmates to victory, or to console them in their thwarted attempts.
So, this year School in a Soybean Field has one qualifier to represent them at the all-school junior high championship meet in County Seat, Indiana. This dedicated lad is Melvin, a classmate of Rosetta, and Melvin is a distance runner. He has qualified for the mile-run. The runners get set for the start, sixteen boys on the cusp of puberty prancing, pacing, and doing jumping-jacks in warmup.
The starter directs the boys to their starting positions, gives the order and fires the pistol. They are off!
As the lead runners cross the starting point at the end of the first lap, five of them are clustered quite close, the remaining ones beginning already to trail out behind. Melvin is in third place. Completion of second lap, same five runners clustered, trail behind getting longer. Melvin is still in third place. In the infield where Rosetta has been jumping up and down excitedly as the boys completed the third lap, we see her move to the edge of the grass and snug up against the track itself as the boys make the fourth turn on the third lap. As they cross the starting point to begin the gun lap, Melvin is in the lead by nearly three yards!
As Melvin flashes by, Rosetta takes off like the proverbial shot and in a trice is running shoulder-to-shoulder with Melvin, he on the track, she in the grass, her feet shod in black Converse Chuck Taylors, her legs churning, her bright yellow skirt flapping about her legs, her pony-tail flaring out behind her white blouse.
"Pace, pace, Melvin, pace," she is crying as she runs. "I"ve got you. Run, run!" Then as they make the second turn, she sees that Melvin has extended his lead to perhaps eight yards. "Coast, coast, follow my pace!" As they make the final turn, Melvin is leading by four yards and Rosetta yells, "Kick, kick! Race you to the finish!" and she kicks it. So does Melvin. He breaks the tape, staggers into the grass and flops down, the county champion in the mile run!
Rosetta, scarcely breathing hard, runs to Melvin, grabs his left arm and pulls at him yelling, "Get up, you won! Walk it out! We won, we won!"