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Jenn Stuczynski is the Pride of Fredonia, NY

A Fredonian in the Olympics. (By Julie Jacobson - AP)

The stories crop up every two years. Dateline: Quaintville, USA. Watch the send-off rally organized by the smiling politicians. See the red-white-and-blue bunting, the children lining the streets and waving signs. Read the local newspaper stories about how dang proud the community is of this or that fresh-faced Olympian.

Yeah, well, this time I'm the proud one. Like me, Jenn Stuczynski -- America's top female pole vaulter and a medal threat in Monday's finals--is from the village of Fredonia, N.Y. She hung out on the same Lake Erie pier I did, went to the same annual Farm Festival and the same Chautauqua County Fair, walked along the same Canadaway Creek looking for salamanders.

We both had Mrs. Cobb for Global Studies. Jenn's mom used to snag the treadmill next to my dad at Darwin's Gym. We played sports wearing the same orange-and-black colors, both representing the Fredonia High Hillbillies. (Really.)

And our village of 10,000 people, about 45 minutes southwest of Buffalo, is following the classic Olympic script. There was the fund-raising drive to pay her parents' way from Fredonia to Beijing, which netted three times the necessary amount. There was the downtown rally, with thousands of residents coming to Barker Commons to watch Jenn sign autographs for two-and-a-half hours. The houses in my neighborhood have Jenn signs in their yards, and the people on my street are wearing Jenn t-shirts.

"It's weird, I walked into [popular bakery] Upper Crust, you know, right on Main Street," she told me today. "And some guy was sitting outside with my t-shirt on. But it's cute. They're so excited. You know, it's emotional when I sit and think about it, but I try not to."

Stuczynski, last summer. (By Chip East - Reuters)

Today she made her Olympic debut, needing just one jump to qualify for the finals. The only drama came when she tried to warm up on a crowded track during the steeplechase; "I think I almost took out about 10 steeplechasers," she said.

As any good Fredonian knows, our village already has plenty of claims to fame: the first commercial natural gas well in the U.S., the first Grange hall, the first meeting of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. We have our sports stories too: Mr. Criscione, from neighboring Dunkirk, played a handful of games for the Orioles in the late '70s. The Buffalo Bills held training camp in Fredonia before all four Super Bowl seasons. My friend Michael Heary was the area's high school basketball Player of the Year in 1994, and went on to star at Navy.

But this is bigger, way bigger. Jenn is now a regular in the Buffalo and Rochester news. She dominates the front page of the Dunkirk Observer; and was the subject of the two lead stories on the paper's Web site today. (The third? "Apple Festival delayed until 2010.")

"She's still a hometown girl," her mom, Sue, told me today from Beijing. "She loves Fredonia, she loves the lake, she loves everything about Western New York. And they've just accepted her with open arms."

Sue Stuczynski said the entire county has rallied behind her daughter--who didn't pick up the pole vault until her senior year of college--and every time I talk to anybody from Western New York, her name comes up.

"They're crazy," Jenn summarized. "They're Olympic crazy."

Even as a sportswriter trained to reject all sporting allegiances, I understand why. Most of my friends moved far away from Fredonia after school, but we still have puffs of nostalgia for a place where you leave your front door unlocked and wave at every car that drives by and fulfill every other hackneyed stereotype of the American small town.

There aren't many ways to express that feeling--you can only wear so many Fredonia sweatshirts--and so your loyalty gets transferred to the area's sports franchises, and you hope that somehow a Super Bowl or Stanley Cup will force people to say something nice, to pay attention to a part of the country that's easy to ignore.

Hasn't worked too well, as it turns out. But what the heck; on Monday, we're gonna try it again.

"I don't ever remember an event like Stuczynski going to the Olympics that has drawn so much excitement to a community like this before," the Observer's sports editor, Craig Harvey, recently wrote. "As the Olympics begin, it usually reminds us how proud we are to be an American. Right now, there has never been a better time to be a resident of Northern Chautauqua County."

By Dan Steinberg  |  August 16, 2008; 1:29 PM ET
Categories:  Olympics  
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Next: Bolt: Happiness Trumps Time


How hard is it to get on the front page of the Dunkirk Observer? You're either on the front or the back.

Posted by: twoeightnine | August 16, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Darwin's Gym? Yeah, yeah, I get it I get it...

Posted by: Rob Iola | August 16, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

It is beautiful and very tough.The picture is showing that.


Posted by: sports | August 16, 2008 2:16 PM | Report abuse

It's true: I came home from Washington last week and I thought 90% of the houses in Fredonia were for sale... until I realized the yard signs all had Jenn Stuczynski's name in them and even in Fredonia, it's hard to get that kind of corner of the real estate market..

Posted by: Loran | August 16, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

"'As the Olympics begin, it usually reminds us how proud we are to be an American.'" --

Former Observer Sports Editor Jerry Reilly must be tossing and turning over his successor's shoddy grammar.

We are all an American!

This cynicism interrupted for a hearty "Go Jenn!" from Brooklyn-by-way-of-Fredonia...

Thanks for the updates, Dan!

Posted by: JB | August 16, 2008 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Knowing this and being a fan of hers, I'm disappointed you hadn't made an excuse to cover her here before. I'd love to see her upset the Russians and perhaps set a new world record. She still has a lot of potential and room for improvement.

Posted by: sitruc | August 17, 2008 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, my fate for the Americans in T&F has been spot on so far. Hopefully the team will recover.

Posted by: sitruc | August 17, 2008 7:16 PM | Report abuse

I think this is great being from WNY getting my college degree from Fredonia and vaulting through high school and even into college I am so proud. I havent had the opportunity to see the area with Jenn madness. I hope she pulls the upset especially after the trash talk from the Russian.

Posted by: Nathan MacFarlane | August 17, 2008 9:00 PM | Report abuse

I grew up in Jamestown and live in a Rochester suburb that is one town over from where Jenn lives now (I live in Chili and Jenn lives in Riga/Chruchville).

I have my Jenn sign up in my yard.

My wife, who grew up in Chili, is wondering how long it has to stay up.........

And speaking of famous Northern Chautauqua County athletes - how about Brocton's Don Reinhoudt who was once the World's Strongest Man!

Posted by: James | August 18, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Nice post, Dan. It's all I would expect from the former sports editor of the illustrious Spectator. Couldn't have said it better myself.

Posted by: Kristen Burke | August 19, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Dan - this was a wonderful article and tribute to our area. It was so awesome to be a part of the Jenn Stuczynski "park celebration" with my children. I hope that my friends who have moved out of the area in search of their "spot" will find places that are filled with the same kind of pride and appreciation that Fredonia has had lately.

Posted by: Kristin (Coykendall) Tomaszewski | August 19, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Dear Jenn Stuczynski, You are a one big embarrassment for the United
State. Your trashy remarks about Yelena Isinbayeva are mean
spirited. We donĀ“t want that kind of hateful talks. It is against
Olympic spirit and a good sense of sportsmen ship. Jenn Stuczynski,
you are for sure a good jumper, but so what? I would better you did
not get that silver medal since you brought shame and disgrace for
both yourself and the United State. Jenn, learn some good manners,
lady, learn it from Yelena Isinbayeva, for she is a classy lady. But
you? You are a vulgarian. But, my God, you can change too. You shall apologize to both Yelena Isinbyeva and the American people to regain your grace. It would be a nice gesture.

Posted by: veneda | August 20, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Hey '
Dan, that was a great article u wrote. Glad u mentioned your Dad working out at Darwins Health Club and i see him every weekend and i always put on Meet the Press for him when im working. Jenn is an amazing person and a very down to earth family she comes from. Trash Talking ? I dont think she was talking trash by saying she is going to beat some Russian Butt. Thats apart of the game and when she said it she said it more in a haha type of why not vulgar or demeaning. Everyone in Fredonia and the rest of WNY are proud of her and even if she has a Silver Medal she is still Number 1 in our hometown and in out hearts. Great Job Jenn Fredonia loves u.

Posted by: Brian Thomas | August 21, 2008 7:23 PM | Report abuse

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