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Scribe Reminded Of Midwestern Values

May 12, 2019

Even before embarking upon a 280 mile mid-week drive from my Silver Lake, Ohio home to Muncie, Indiana to serve as the announcer for the Ball State-hosted 2019 Mid-American Outdoor Track & Field Championships, I was looking forward to what I knew would be high-caliber competition. I wasn't disappointed. Miami University's Sean Torpy won the 1500 meters, the 800 meters, and the 5000 meters all in the space of the final afternoon while his twin brother captured the steeplechase crown. Kent State's talented multi-athlete T.J. Lawson, groomed by his head coach and father Bill Lawson, won the decathlon for the third consecutive year and even flirted with the conference record. And the host school's Bryeana Byrdsong was a joyful, surprise winner of the women's 100 meter dash. While the MAC may be considered by some to be a mid-major conference, I found the championships I announced to have all of the vigor and passion of a Power-5 conference championship gathering.

But beyond the track meet, I was struck by something else. The off-highway nature of my roundtrip drive to Muncie and back afforded me the opportunity to leave the numbing sameness of interstate driving and embrace some backroad travel in northwestern Ohio and eastern Indiana. And in the process, the optics of the trip reminded me of my midwestern roots and reawakened in me my pride as a midwesterner. While my innate midwestern pride had never completely vanished, my Ivy League education and my somewhat different life journey had dimmed my appreciation of midwestern culture and the pride that comes with it. Off the interstate, I suddenly found myself on state roads flanked on both sides by long stretches of rural flatlands and a long, clean horizon, only interrupted on occasion by grain silos and church steeples. The roads took me through little towns and hamlets: like Findlay, Ohio which touts itself as Flag City USA; Celina, Ohio situated adjacent to gigantic Grand Lake; and Redkey, Indiana - a small burg whose welcome sign features, well, a red key. Witnessing these towns and their dated buildings evoked memories of a bygone era when hard work and persistence could lead to success without the current challenges presented by global markets and the ongoing evolution of American retailing.

As I drove, I was reminded of the distinctive work ethic of this region. Most midwesterners don't shirk hard work, they embrace it. Those who live in The Heartland are quite willing to provide an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. And they do it every day. Midwestern farmers know that Mother Nature does not tolerate weekends off. And midwestern retailers know the precious niches they cling to demand long hours as well. And they do it every day.

The return drive on Sunday morning was equally enlightening. With an early start, I had the back roads all to myself. Between sips of coffee, I spotted a billboard for a local insurance agency touting crop insurance coverage. The sign put an agrarian spin on a British World War II slogan: "Stay Calm, And Keep Farming." And, for the most part, Midwestern farmers do just that. While many in other sectors of the country might smirk at farming, dismissing it as a dated pursuit from a bygone agrarian era, midwesterners take pride that their region is the nation's breadbasket.

And as the morning mist began to rise, the empty roads invited me to drive a little faster and I did. But shortly after 8:00 a.m., I saw something that caused me to slow just a bit. Passing yet another well-manicured farm, I saw in the distance a magnificent, towering church with a majestic spire, so beautiful it looked almost out of place in the rural setting. Passing the adjacent cemetery, I noticed the church's parking lot was completely full. I didn't spot any European cars in the lot, but plenty of pickup trucks were there. Midwesterners are known as people of abiding faith - and they renew their faith every Sunday. This practice, along with others, gives them the strength to soldier on, to persevere in a changing economy that makes their challenges more difficult.

Midwesterners rarely complain. Instead, they choose to work harder, to find ways to cope with greater challenges. Today's midwestern farmers, already in a difficult and unappreciated situation, find themselves bearing an unequal portion of the negative consequences of the country's current policy on tariffs, those bounties forcing painful valuation drops in the crops they raise.

To break up my drive and to provide myself with a little nourishment, I purposely stopped at a Waffle House in Wapakoneta, Ohio - the birthplace and former home of the late Neil Armstong, the first man to walk on the moon. The restaurant is located on Apollo Drive right across from the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum. From the Neil Armstrong Airport to the town's bowling alley - Astro Lanes - Wapakoneta is a virtual shrine to their native son. Upon entering the restaurant, heads turn as the patrons notice I'm not a regular. I'm not wearing blue jeans and my blazer is a dead giveaway. Nonetheless, I'm greeted with midwestern smiles, a pleasant gesture that tells me that I am welcomed and that they know I am in unfamiliar territory.

As she takes my order, my waitress confirms that, yes, the city is planning a big town-wide 50th anniversary celebration of Armstrong's historic moon walk. Waiting for my meal gives me time to people watch: a balding, middle-aged man assists his aged mother to the table for a Mother's Day breakfast; a portly, bearded gentleman announces to no one in particular that his son will be turning 40 this fall; and a proud young father gives me a nod as he enters the restaurant behind his wife and their three young children for a family meal on Mother's Day. This unlikely combination of diners seem to have one thing in common: an understated yet palpable sense of contentment, an aura of peace with themselves and with their lives, a sense of gratitude for what they have done, what they have, who they are, and the families they have raised. With rare exceptions, midwesterners like their lives and what they do. All they ask for is a fair chance to do what they love and they'll take care of the rest.

Before tearing into my waffle, I noticed an art display on the far wall. Featured were the crayoned works of some local youngsters. I was taken by one piece in particular: a smiling yellow sun against a blue background. Below the sun it read: "When you love all you have, you have all you need." That middle-schooler's joyful yet innocent sentiment just might be the credo of The Heartland.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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