La Mancha is the posh section of Letongaloosa where the streets are winding and the house numbers are hand painted on Spanish tile. The La Mancha girls softball team—the Amazons—and the team’s star, catcher, Madison “Madie” Sommerset, suffered an ignominious defeat in the final game of the 2014 regional tournament. After trailing the whole game, the Amazons allowed the Fairfield Fusions to tie the game in the bottom of the final inning.
With the score tied, and two out, a scrawny Fusion batter hit a high fly that Madie called for. Madie was wearing extra thick make-up in anticipation of posing for victory photos. Madie tried to tear off her catcher’s mask but her thick make-up had bonded with the lining of her catcher’s mask . She couldn’t get it off. Madie muffed the play and the fusion runner crossed the plate for the winning run. There was no joy in La Manchaville , Mighty Madie had flubbed up.
Things were tough for Madie during the off season. Students called her “Muffles” behind her back, and a few called her Muffles to her face. She developed an allergy to cosmetics and had to go to school barefaced. Worse, Madie developed a pimple on her nose. Students called her Bruja which is “witch” in Spanish. Someone left a big red apple on her desk to remind her that she wasn’t a big shot “Snow White,” any more.
When it came to academics Madie had been an indifferent student. She worked hard enough in school to stay eligible for athletics and extracurricular activities, but she often failed to turn in her assignments. She just never even tried to get good grades, much less make the dean’s list.
That was acceptable, even to her parents, when she was a star athlete. But when Mr. and Mrs. Sommerset found that people at the country club treated them with pity rather than the usual deference, they confronted Madie and found out that she was, academically, a nonperson. They demanded that she make the honor roll and that she excel at some other extracurricular activity than sports.
At Letongaloosa High School, forensics was to the brainy kids what athletics was to the athletic kids: a ticket to popularity and recognition. Madie had always distained non sport activities. But now, Madie signed up for forensics and focused on poetry recitation. She memorized and practiced reciting “Casey at the Bat.” Partly because she looked the part, and partly because she loved the poem, the judges liked Madie’s recitations.
She won the local and district forensics poetry competitions and went on to regionals. Competition was very tough at the regional tournament but Madie managed to win or place second in poetry recitation and found herself in the final round facing an opponent from Fusion High School. Madie’s opponent was listed on the forensics tote board in the hall as Sally Teasley. The tournament was held on a Saturday in a neutral high school building. The tournament judges were from out of town They didn’t know the competitors other than by their names, and didn’t know what high school the contestants represented.
That afternoon Madie walked into the large classroom designated for the poetry competition. She wrote her name on the board under the sign “Poetry Recitation Finalists,” and sat down. A moment later her opponent entered the room and signed in. Madie drew a sudden breath. Her recitation opponent was her old softball nemesis, Sally Teasley, A.K.A. “Scrawny Arms” from Fusion High School.
The judges were sitting in student desks eight rows back. They conferred, then one of them announced: “We’ll begin this session with Sally Teasley reciting “ The Highwayman,” by Alfred Noyes. Sally went to the lectern and began this session with Sally Teasley reciting “ The Highwayman,” by Alfred Noyes. Sally went to the lectern and began reciting:
“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees…” Then she paused and turned pale. The room was silent. Sally stood frozen at the lectern. Then Madie’s quiet voice came from behind her: “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed among…” Sally brightened, picked up the refrain, and finished her recitation beautifully. After Madie had recited “Casey at the Bat,” the two girls walked out of the room arm in arm.
Dr. Larry Day is a retired KU J-School professor and the author of Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia, a book of humor columns that have nothing to do with old age. Download it from Amazon today!!