A Blue Ribbon for Sharon


Sharon bent her head over her spelling words and tried to ignore the excited chatter all over the classroom. Field day! That’s all anybody talks about anymore, she thought angrily. And what fun is field day for me when my legs don’t work?

How she hated the wheelchair that prevented her from doing all the things she wanted to do. She had to stop thinking about it though because when she did, she would also think about the accident. Then she would get all shaky remembering the car rolling over and over and the feeling afterward when her legs wouldn’t move anymore.

What can I do on field day? she wondered. Just sit on the sidelines while all the rest run and jump and win ribbons! Last year Karen, her twin, had been her field day partner, and they had won two blue ribbons. And Sharon had even placed second in the sack race. But this year … well, she would pretend to be sick that day. That would certainly be a lot easier than sitting on the sidelines and pretending she didn’t care.

“You can’t be sick!” Karen pleaded that morning. “It’s field day and you have to go!”

“I can’t,” Sharon whispered. “I feel just awful.”

Mom came and felt her forehead. “No fever,” she said.

Sharon felt that Mom knew she was telling a lie, and then she really did feel awful. She had never told Mom a lie before, but she just couldn’t sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else having a great time.

“But I ache all over, Mom. I don’t think I’d better go to school today.”

Sharon lay there feeling guilty. She could hear Mom in the kitchen telling Karen she wouldn’t be able to go see her in the competition after all, and she could hear Karen’s disappointment when she said, “That’s OK, Mom.”

Sharon hated to disappoint Karen. Her sister had been just great since the accident. She had carried her piggyback many times so Sharon could go out and join the other kids in their games. No, I can’t let her down, she decided. She loves field day as much as I always did. And it wouldn’t be fair to make Mom stay home either.

The classroom was a frenzy of activity when they arrived. And before she knew it, Sharon was out on the field with the rest of the school, where Miss Sims was calling out the events—“Sixty-meter dash!”

Sharon’s whole class was in that one except for her, and she felt embarrassed to just sit there while all the rest were on the field waiting for the starting whistle. She looked around for Mom and spotted her across the field, sitting with several other parents. They all looked excited and proud as they pointed out their children. Somehow that made Sharon feel worse than ever.

“Go!”

The runners were off and Sharon heard herself yelling along with everybody else. “Go, Karen! Go!”

The next event was the three-legged race, and Sharon couldn’t hide her tears when she saw her sister team up with another girl. But everyone was too busy cheering and shouting to notice her crying.

Sharon didn’t yell much after that. She watched with scant interest the sack race, walk race, wheelbarrow race, and the slowpoke race. But then suddenly Karen was beside her, her face red from the heat and the excitement.

“Come on, Sharon. We’re next!”

Miss Sims picked Sharon up out of the wheelchair and the next thing she knew she was on her sister’s back, hanging on for dear life as they sped onto the field. “Karen, you’ll drop me!” she cried.

“No I won’t, “Karen called over her shoulder. “I carry you piggyback at home, don’t I? Now just hold on, silly. We’re partners for the piggyback race, and we’re going to win the blue ribbon!”

The whistle blew. “Go!”

The racers ran across the field and Sharon held on for all she was worth. “Go, Karen!” she shouted. “We’re ahead! Run! Run!”

Sharon could see Mom jumping up and down on the edge of the field and could hear her cheering for them. But as they neared the finish line, Laura Kendle and Elaine Coughty edged past them to finish first. As they crossed the line second, Karen eased Sharon into her chair, panting. “Whew! Well, we came in second anyway.”

“You came in second,” muttered Sharon. “You ran. I only rode!” Her twin looked at her understandingly and didn’t say anything as they accepted their red ribbons.

Sharon knew she hadn’t done anything herself. Karen had earned the ribbons for them, but she had participated in field day, and she could not help but be just a little bit proud of their ribbons.

“OK! Softball throw.”

“Come on, Sharon,” Miss Sims called. “You’re in this event.”

One of the boys pushed her chair out onto the field, and Sharon’s heart began to beat a little faster. She had been pitching to Ricky, the little boy next door, who was trying out for Little League, so she knew she was pretty good with a softball. Her heart was pounding like a trip-hammer. When her turn came, Sharon held the ball for a moment and then threw it with all the strength she could muster.

“Wow!” the children all murmured appreciatively and watched as Miss Sims checked the distance. Then, consulting the figures on her clipboard, she announced, “First place! Sharon Sullivan. Second place …”

But Sharon didn’t hear who won second or third place, because Karen was giving her a bear hug, and all the other boys and girls were crowding around to congratulate her. She had won a blue ribbon and she had done it herself.

“But I really didn’t think I would be in field day at all this year,” she told Miss Sims as she accepted her ribbon.

“Why, Sharon Sullivan! You know everyone participates in field day. ‘All students must participate in field day.’ That’s what it says in the rules. Right?” Then she smiled. “Congratulations!”

Sharon smiled back. And although she couldn’t explain how or why she thought so, she knew that something important had happened to her. Somehow she didn’t feel like “just a girl in a wheelchair” anymore. Wonderingly, she said half aloud, “I’m still Sharon Sullivan.”

“Well, of course,” said one of the boys. “That’s who you’ve been all along! But now you’re also the winner of a blue ribbon!”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann