By Sidney Underwood 2015|
When I attended grade school In Grantsville in the early 1950’s. I remember that a Field Day was held each year at the high school in May just before school ended for the year. Eighth grade students from all the county grade schools would be bussed to the high school to participate in the various programs that would last all day.
This Field Day served two purposes. First, it presented an opportunity for the eighth graders to become familiar with the facilities of the high school since many of them would be enrolling as freshmen in the fall. Secondly, it provided a venue for friendly completion between the schools in scholastic and athletic events.
The scholastic events were held in the morning in selected classrooms and involved spelling bees and knowledge of math and science. I recently talked with Sheranell Poling Ferrell who lives near me in Parkersburg and she vividly remembers winning ribbons in spelling and math when she competed as an eighth grade student in the early 1950’s.
The athletic competitions occurred in the afternoon utilizing the football field and baseball diamond. Some of the athletic events were the 40 yard dash, three legged sack race, baseball throw and other events requiring physical coordination and strength. The boys and girls were encouraged to compete in their separate events as it was deemed unfair for the boys to compete against the girls except in scholastic matters.
One rather humorous event that I recall was the “egg run.” This contest, usually the final event of the day, involved having the youngsters line up at the goal line and run to the 40 yard line with a raw egg perched on a plastic spoon.
The first contestant to cross the line with the egg still sitting on the spoon was declared the winner. That event had the crowd laughing and cheering as the eggs tumbled and exploded littering the field and discoloring the contestants’ clothing and shoes.
Those young athletic participants needed no pep talk to do well. For most of them, this was the first time that they had competed before a crowd of onlookers. Also. It was probably the first time that they heard cheering on the athletic fields and that certainly made a lasting impression on the 14 and 15 year olds.
The classroom contests were just as intense with students totally concentrating and hoping to do well in the spelling and sciences to earn a ribbon. It had to be a proud moment for students when they earned ribbons. Some of them probably still have their ribbons tucked away in a special album of memories.
There was a commonly held misconception that students from smaller grade schools were at a distinct disadvantage in scholastic matters. The Field Day exposed that thinking as a myth. I remember one time there were scholastic ribbon winners from Beech Valley and Bell School, two schools that I did not even know existed. I would estimate that there were maybe 20 small one and two room grade schools in the county in the early 1950’s. I remember that my Mother in the early 1960’s taught at four of them and they were Rush Run, Upper Pine, Stevens and Russett which was a somewhat larger grade school.
I remember that I incorrectly assumed that students from Grantsville would win the most ribbons. They did win some ribbons, but soon realized that there were students from those country schools that could do just as well or better in the spelling, math and science categories.
As for the athletics contests, the Grantsville boys were in for a rude awakening. They learned that the boys from the small schools were stronger, faster and in better shape than the “Townies.” Apparently hoeing corn and putting up hay and mending fences helped develop muscle power that was used to great advantage.
The high school coaches watched the athletic events closely observing the boys who were winning the contests. Those who won several ribbons received even closer scrutiny.
Also, teachers such as Cecil Wolverton, Paul Stalnaker and Dan Duskey pointed out the athletic prowess of their contestants to the coaches and answered questions concerning grade point averages and the probability of those students continuing their education by enrolling freshmen at the high school.
When all events ended for the day, the coaches introduced themselves and congratulated the young men on their achievements and encouraged them to consider playing football, basketball and baseball when they enrolled at the high school in the fall.
Doing well in scholastic and athletic matters can be a great motivator in assisting young people to strive for higher goals. Who knows, but, just maybe, the recognition received with that ribbon might have furnished the determination for some students to do well in high school and go on to receive college degrees.
I do know of many instances when a young male athlete studied just enough to make passing grades so he could remain a member of a Red Devil football, basketball or baseball team. Contrary to what some educators believe concerning the over emphasis on sports, II think It was acceptable for that motivation to be athletics as the end result was the achievement of a high school diploma. Along the way, some of those athletes were motivated to continue their education and received college degrees. It is amazing today to realize that some individuals overcame great odds to succeed as teachers because they came from very humble origins.
During the Field Day, Mr. C.R. Yoho, the band director, used that opportunity to explain the programs offered to students inclined toward a love of music. He would emphasize the pride of becoming a member of the Red Devil Marching Band. He would tell them that they would enjoy music for their entire lifetime. He would proceed to demonstrate some of the beautiful instruments that they would master and play. Looking back now, I realize that he was correct in this observation. He was a great motivator and I recall his devotion to music.
Because of Mr. Yoho’s efforts, I remember the great Calhoun High School Marching Bands of the early 1950’s with 60 strong marching in the homecoming parades. The tension would build as the spectators would first hear the distant pounding cadence of the drums and then the band would cross the old bridge and march through town playing the school fight song.
It was enough to send shivers up one’s spine. With the hometown crowd cheering, the band would march to Leaf Bank, turn around and march back through town giving every one watching a great sense of pride and place.
For whatever reason, the Field Day was cancelled in the mid 1950’s and, to my knowledge, never held again. I still think it was a valuable recruiting tool that helped young people establish goals for themselves.