At Home on the Range

On November 3rd, I had the honor and pleasure of returning once again to Rotan, Texas to meet the participants of the “No Hill for a Stepper” essay contest and to award prizes to the winners. In my mind, they were all winners in one way or the other but I will need to expand that in a future blog. Each participant was given a free copy of my book along with my deep appreciation.

First, we had a reception for the contestants in the school library. Here’s what I told them.

 “The world belongs to those who show up. Not only did you show up, you participated and THAT gave us a glimpse into the high quality of your character.

 My advice to the readers of No Hill for a Stepper is to resolve issues early on. Your essays showed that you are capable of doing that. You are ahead of the game.

“No Hill for a Stepper” is the story of Cono Dennis, my father who spent some of his most memorable years here in Rotan.

But it is today is when your book begins!

Anne and I spend hours going over your essays and we enjoyed every minute of it. The hard part of course was determining first, second and third places.

Because all the entries were in the essay division, there is more money allocated for the prizes.”

 First prize is $100

Second is $50

Third is $25

And these will be awarded in a few minutes at the pep rally.”

(Cash prizes were made available from the donations received at my October book launch. Thank you for that!)

It was Friday night football, the last game of the season and for two of the participants, seniors John and Darrell, it was truly their last game at Rotan. Not only that, I learned that it was the last year of eleven man football for the Hammers. Next year Rotan will become a six-man team.

Moving on now to the Pep Rally. The entire school district, including the elementary school, entered the gymnasium. I was handed the microphone, stood at the center line and said the following:

 “I am here in Rotan, Texas where, in 3rd grade, Cono wore his first pair of boxing gloves.

In Rotan, where he chased a calf down Main street with his friend, Dorothy.

 – where he met Gene, his best childhood friend.

– where Cono shot his first bobcat and learned about bootlegging. 

– where he picked lambsquarter weeds for his mother to boil for supper.

 – where he learned about ranching from his grandfather Ike, a true texas cowboy.

 Here, where he learned not only about bullying but about how to handle it, and

here where his father was arrested in a café for stirring his coffee with the barrel of his pistol.

 Rotan, Texas is where Cono learned to love football as much as he learned to love the man named H. Govan, who called him “Kid Dennis”.  (everyone cheered at this!)

 Rotan, Texas, where the land is vast and where the folks sized you up from boot to hat, if, that is, they were lucky enough to own both.

 Rotan, Texas, where Cono learned to never give up, where there is NO hill for a stepper.

“No Hill for a Stepper” was Cono’s story about the time leading up to the age you are now. But that was HIS story. Today, I am here because of new stories. I am here today and to honor the participants of the No Hill for a Stepper essay contest.

 I would like to say to ALL of you. Today is where your book begins.

 And with that thought in mind, I would like to introduce you to to the winners. When I call your name, will you please come up to receive your award.

 For 3rd place :  Kyndra Vaught

                                             2nd place winners (tie):  Darrell Buratti,  Ramya Sunku







                      And First Place winners (tie):  John Flores,   Brandy De La Cruz








The crowd cheered while I felt overcome with emotion. There were many reasons I felt the way I did.

“A legacy” Superintendent Ruffin had told me earlier. “ I truly believe you can tell a lot about a person by looking at his/her legacy.    This I think reflects on your upbringing.  Therefore, I can say that your father was truly a kind, warm and reflective person.”  Yes, he was.

I went to the game and set up my books to sell to the Yellowhammer fans.  All the while, I was freezing from the weather only to be warmed by the kind folks that came to talk to me.  One man strolled by my table and said, “My boy won second place.” You could see the pride in his face but more so, you could hear it in his voice. I introduced myself and briefly had a chance to speak with him. “He’s a good boy,” he said. Yes, indeed.

The Rotan Yellowhammers won their last game. The scoreboard, under the signage of “in honor of Cono Dennis”, read, Rotan 12, visitor 2.

No hill for a stepper. And they were ALL steppers.

(Stay close! Their essays are coming soon and will move even the hardest of souls.)

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