Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Schools in Van Buren County were not isolated from each other. Annual programs and events were often inclusive, giving students an opportunity to meet with and challenge those in other school districts. Rivalry between some schools developed and school pride was enhanced by some of these events.

For example, spelling contests were held in which one representative from each rural school competed against several from each of the large town schools. All upper grade students participated each year in countywide testing programs that included I.Q. tests, Crudence Preference Tests and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Another event was Eighth Grade Graduation. A combined ceremony was held each year in Keosauqua for all rural students finishing grade school. Schools and teachers were recognized, top students were honored. Graduates formed a line and each name was called as they were issued a diploma. Thus for almost everyone entering high school, there were a few familiar faces.

However, the annual Field Day at the County Fair Grounds in Keosauqua probably inspired the most rivalry of any countywide school event. Each school prepared vigorously for weeks in advance and sent their best student athletes to participate in track and field competitions that would yield them trophies and prizes.

At Pittsburg, our preparation for this big day included races, high jump, long jump, relay and hurdles contests. I could not run very fast and never developed good athletic skills, thus my name was not on the list of contestants in any event. I would be quite satisfied to watch and cheer for my schoolmates who entered various competitions.

And then, a terrible thing happened! Elwood (Punky) Holden was sick and could not run in the 100 yard dash for our school. Mrs. Gwinnup scratched his name and put my name in the slot to run a race! I couldnít run, everyone knew that!

I didnít sleep well the night before, and once at the track, everything was one big noise. Hundreds of faces along the fence were blurry and I was scared. "You can do it, Andy!" my teacher whispered, "Do it for your school!"

I closed my eyes and crouched down close to the ground. I heard the gun and took off like a little jack rabbit. Short, quick steps in rapid succession. I was streaming. The noise got louder! I could see the finish line but suddenly realized I didnít see anyone around me. For a brief second I thought maybe there was a false start and I was the only one that didnít know it. Maybe I was running for nothing.

As I hesitated a fraction of a second, three people whizzed by me and I hated myself as I realized what a dumb thing I had done. With a burst of energy, I then gave it all I had for those last few yards and overtook one to finish in third place. I hoarsely whispered "Pittsburg number four" when asked what school I represented. I would at least take home a ribbon.

From the corner of my teary eyes I could see Mrs. Gwinnup jumping up and down with excitement. "Iím sorry!" I told her and hung my head with embarrassment. She hugged me! "Andy, you gave it all you had! You were wonderful!" She praised me and used me as an example to inspire her other students to try harder. Yet I felt terrible. In my mind I had let everyone down, most of all myself. It was the only time I was ever involved in anything of an athletic nature, and I blew it!

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick