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Jess has gotten out of bed early every day all summer so that he could go running. Jess is a pretty good runner, and he figures that if he practices, he has a chance to be "the fastest runner in the fifth grade when school open(s) up." Jess is determined "to be the fastest - not one of the fastest or next to the fastest, but the fastest. The very best."
At Lark Creek Elementary, where Jess attends school, there is not a lot of athletic equipment for the students to use. The few balls that are available are monopolized by the older children, the sixth and seventh graders, so in order to amuse themselves, the lower-grade boys had started "this running thing." The boys would all line up on the far side of the lower field, and at a shouted signal they would race "to a line they'd toed across at the other end." Jess, as a fourth grader, had won this race one time last year, and the triumph "had put into his mouth a taste for winning." Jess has had a reputation from the time he was a first grader as a quiet student "who draws all the time; "he had surprised everyone when he won that race, and he enjoyed the attention that resulted. Jess figures that he has a pretty good chance to be "the fastest kid in the third, fourth, and fifth grades" this year, and is determined to practice enough to make that dream a reality (Chapter 1).
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