On May 20, the biggest thing in Mariah Sanders' life was soaring through the air on a pole. She'd trained for this, for four years, since a track coach spotted her playing football with the boys and sensed that she was fearless enough to try the pole vault. Sanders was somewhat of an All-American girl -- straight A's, prom-queen looks, a star of the Joplin High School softball team. She was stubborn. Nothing was more important, on that day, than qualifying for state.
On May 20, fetal pigs were spread across a science room, ready to be carved up, and all around the school teenagers were eager to close the books on 2010-11. A teacher jokingly told his class that unless the school was destroyed, they would need to squeeze in two tests before summer. The class sighed.
On May 20, one of the biggest stories churning in the national media was about an 89-year-old televangelist who pegged the next day -- Saturday, May 21 -- as Judgment Day. A small percentage of the world's population would be lifted off to heaven, the man said. It was supposed to be the start of the end of the world.