Back when I was a kid (you know, right around the time of the Civil War), one of the most exciting days of the school year was when the Scholastic Book shipment arrived.
For those of you who can’t remember a time before computers and Amazon.com, Scholastic had an arrangement with schools in which a small catalog of children’s books was handed out to the kids every month. Then you would badger your parents for 60 cents or so to purchase your favorite title. The teacher would amass all the individual orders and send them in. Six to eight weeks later, a big box would arrive in the classroom and these treasures would be handed out.
It was a big deal. You don’t have to believe me, there are a lot of people who feel the same way.
Being a reasonably normal kid, I usually selected horror, science fiction or sports stories. I specifically remember one Scholastic collection of short stories with a high school sports theme. They featured football and basketball – even rowing. But for some reason I distinctly remember one about cross-country track called “Remora Runner.”
Through the miracle of the Internet, I was able to turn up the full text of the short story (and at 1,300 words, it’s pretty short). It was written by Jay Worthington, who apparently was a prolific writer of such tales back in the late 1940s through 1960s.
I’ve posted the full text on my blog. It’s the saga of Clifton “Clipper” Ritter, who runs cross-country both in the shadow of his older brother, who was once the top runner at the same school, and Augie Shaver, a fellow runner whose pace is perfectly matched to Clipper’s.
Clipper attaches himself to Augie in every race, earning the derisive epithet of “remora runner.”
I don’t want to ruin the ending, but on the day of the big meet, Clipper learns something about himself.
I don’t have children, but I get the sense that stories like this one—positive, effective and concise—are pretty rare these days, particularly stories about running. And as I read “Remora Runner” again after all these years, I can see clearly that it’s not so kid-centered that adults can’t enjoy it, too.
If any readers can suggest other stories about running (track and field in general would be fine as well) suitable for the whole family, I promise to do some research and assemble a top ten list.