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Courage Under Fire

October 24, 2002 04:48 PM
Yakima Valley Junior College, in the State of Washington, fielded outstanding tennis teams in the 50s, and I was honored to have been selected for the varsity squad in 1954 and 1955. Our "tour" included a number of other 2-year and 4-year colleges in the state, including Whitman College in Walla Walla and Central Washington State University.
Our season lasted from early March until the early part of June. In order to play away matches we were obliged to pile into our own cars and travel for a week or ten days, hitting all the two-year colleges in our league, and staying in seedy motels that cost in those days in the neighborhood of $10.00 per night. There was no television in the rooms, only coin-operated AM radios.
At the end of one such tour in 1956, as we were returning home from somewhere in northwest Washington State, through the Skagit Valley, we were merrily driving down a distinctly secondary road, through dairy country, when one of our team members, and there were five of us in the car, spotted a barn on fire. We turned quickly into the farm, came to a halt in the barnyard, and piled out, ready for action. One of our members found a ladder. Another found a hose and faucet. We raced up the ladder, all five of us, with the leader clutching the hose. And, by the way, another of our members found an ax.
The ax wielding team meber, who was, as I recall, 2nd singles, chopped away at the burning cedar shingles, while the 1st singles player poured water from the hose onto the flames. Within five minutes or so, the fire was doused.
We had, unfortunately, not paid attention to the fact that the farm owner was unaware of the fire in his barn. He came out of his house, looking up at the five of us on the barn's gable, and asked what in heaven's name we were doing up there. One of our members explained that his barn had been on fire, and that we had put it out.
He climbed the ladder, saw the charred shingles, smelled the smokey residue, and allowed as how we had done him a favor. A moment later, the local fire department's truck arrived with firemen ready to do battle, only to find that the Yakima Valley Community College Tennis Squad had beat them to the punch.
Upon our return to the college, I was asked by the editor of the school's newspaper to submit a story to recount our annual away match tour. I submitted scores from each of the half dozen or so matches in which we had competed, then appended the story of the fire. Instead of being relegated to the sports section, our feats were put onto page one of the paper, with blazing headlines.
That year, in addition to winning the state championship, we gained credit for putting out a barn fire. Not a bad feat for a small college tennis team.
-- Ed Bernier in Hilton Head, SC



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