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On Wednesday I was in the Springfield home of Bill and Darleen Anderson paging through a large and crumbling scrapbook devoted to Bill’s many athletic accomplishments.

Included were ribbons he won while a star athlete at Marshfield High School competing in conference championships in 1951 and 1952.

What caught my attention was that the conference was the “Altitude League.” 

Why?

Bill didn’t know. 

I wondered: Did it actually have something to do with altitude? The Ozarks Plateau?

But really? How high can you actually get — without marijuana — in the Ozarks?

I started with an archives search. The oldest mention I could find of the “Altitude League” was January 1928. I found the league standings for boys basketball.

Rogersville 3-0

Hartville 2-1

Mansfield 1-2

Norwood 0-3

In later years, the league included Marshfield, Seymour, Conway-Phillipsburg, Niangua, Ozark, Elkland, Sparta, Ava, and Mountain Grove.

But in 1960 the league disbanded and became — guess what? — the Summit League.

Again, why? 

Did mountain climbers once venture to the Himalayas, the Andes and then — on to the Big One! — Webster County, Missouri?

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I don’t like to brag, but I happen to be an expert when it comes to mountaineering in the Ozarks.

In 2013, former newsroom colleague Thomas Gounley and I scaled the highest point in Greene County, which is near Fair Grove on Highway 125. 

It’s a formidable and dangerous mountain that rises 46,269 centimeters* from lush farmlands. We chose a direct route still known by climbers as the “Gannett approach.”

(*1,518 feet.)

We did it as part of a series of what we hoped back then were funny videos called Ozarks Outtakes. We wore ski masks, sunglasses and toted backpacks and a tent on a spring day that to our dismay reached 80 degrees.

What I most remember of that expedition is that someone living in the area called the Greene County Sheriff’s Office after spotting two men wearing ski masks. 

An angry deputy swerved his cruiser to the roadside with a spray of gravel and ordered Tom and I to stand against my car with our hands up.

We did so. After dropping our mountaineering gear.

He asked what the heck we were doing.

I sheepishly responded: “Making a funny video.”

But the point is, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to Ozarks mountaineering.

I concluded I would need an Ozarks sports historian to find the answer to why the league was once called the “Altitude League.” 

I think I googled the phrase “Marshfield High School historian.”

That quickly led me to a story on the history of Marshfield.

Of course, we all know about the city’s most famous native son: astronomer Edwin Hubble. 

But you might not have known this, which is from the city’s website:

“Webster County was organized in 1855, and Marshfield was laid out in 1856 on the highest upland area of the Ozarks. Marshfield sits at 1,490 feet above sea level, deeming it the highest county seat in Missouri.”

Therefore, the Altitude Conference. 

Playing football at Marshfield High, home of the Bluejays, certainly is not like playing football in Denver or even watering the garden in Fairplay, the county seat of Park County, Colorado, altitude 9,954 feet.

In fact, it’s not even like scaling the summit of Greene County, Missouri: a day I’ll never forget.

Keep those questions coming. Send them to The Answer Man at 417-836-1253, spokin@gannett.com, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail to 651 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65806.

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