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Small Town, Defined

I watched an interview last week where the interviewee said he came from a small town of ‘around 8,000 people’, and that’s not the first time I’ve heard something like that. Small towns in today’s America seem to include anyplace that claims less than fifteen or twenty thousand folks. I suppose I could go along with that, but it does tend to nibble away at the edges of reason. I would suggest, therefore, that ‘small’ towns be officially designated to hold less than 500 souls, and/or are traversable from one end to the other in 3 minutes or less, using horseless carriages of course, but not, you know, the sleek ones. That would put my old stomping grounds of Austin, Nevada, firmly in small-town America where it belongs, instead of having to compete with sprawling metropolises like Fernley or Lake Woebegone. This type of classification isn’t entirely unheard of; school sports have long sorted competition according to the population of students. 4A schools in Nevada are the most populous, fielding full-to-bursting teams from areas like Las Vegas and Reno, and then you have 3A schools from Carson City-like places, and then 2A from Winnemucca etc., and finally the 1 single, solitary A schools. Austin is 1A. The town of Austin holds less than 200 people, and if it wasn’t for the surrounding 3000 square miles of mostly desert holding another 600 or so folks in the ranches, mines, and clusters of homes in Gillman Springs and Kingston, Austin schools would probably drop off the measurable sporting charts. As it was, when we lived there, we quite often had to shanghai potential players who otherwise wouldn’t have given a thought to playing sports. And surprisingly, these somewhat-reluctant draftees gave an astonishingly good account of themselves time after time, somewhat in the mold of American military draftees. So we kept doing it, and as long as there are shanghai-able kids Austin will probably keep doing it. In 2003 my wife Val was the volleyball coach, and since a volleyball team is comprised of six players she needed at an absolute minimum of seven girls so she could substitute for injuries or illness. After the shanghaiing she had six—including our very own daughter—which even a moron could see wasn’t enough. However, after a meeting in which each and every participant committed to playing each and every minute of each and every game until death do they part, they actually went ahead and submitted an intent to play to the state scheduling commission. Wow. You don’t see that sort of thing very often. And looky here, the team was comprised of four sophomores and two freshman! Lacking both numbers and experience, are you people nuts?? Absolutely, and away we went. I say ‘we’ because I ended up being the driver. The team was so small we travelled to games in the school’s 12-passenger van instead of a school bus, so the driver wasn’t required to hold anything but a standard driver’s license. That qualified me, and although you couldn’t say I was shanghaied…well, I guess you could say that and be somewhere in the field of play…it was well worth it because I ended up with a front-row seat to the most astounding sports season I have ever witnessed. These six teenage girls—none of them even halfway through high school—played like tigers. They won the first match (Time Out: A ‘match’ in volleyball means a ‘game’ in any other sport, but in volleyball you have to win two ‘games’ to win your ‘match’. Only sport I know where you gotta win two games before you really win the game. Drove me nuts.) and they won the second match, and they won the third match, before falling to a team from Alamo (for those who are geographically challenged, both Austin and Alamo are in Nevada). There was no quit in these girls or their coach. They played with jammed fingers and sprained ankles and illness and fatigue and floor burns, and Val only used her time-outs when collapse was imminent, and still they went on and on. They became known around the state as the ‘Iron Six’, and there was never a more fitting tribute. I could also point out that their driver was quite the dashing figure, but modesty prevents. They ended the 2003 season with an absolutely astounding 14 wins and four losses, which qualified them for the Zone Tournament. There they finally gave out and lost to a great team from Coleville, California, but in my estimation there has never been a sporting team more magnificent than the Iron Six of 2003. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the sort of thing you’ll only find in a genuine small town.

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