The following week, Mrs. Sidman announces the members of the varsity cross-country team and congratulates Holling specifically for coming in with the fastest time. Holling is afraid of being alone with his teammates, and his classmates loudly berate him for running so fast only because he was trying to escape rats. Holling's classmates all throw wadded paper at him, and Holling explains that this happened because Mrs. Baker was in the office, learning that American troops have begun Operation Pegasus, an operation to find missing soldiers like Lieutenant Baker.
When even good friends like Danny tease and are mean to Holling, it indicates that even Holling’s chosen family isn't without faults. In turn, this suggests that no family, chosen or otherwise, can ever be truly perfect. Notice, however, the difference in understanding between Holling and Mrs. Sidman: she's trying to raise him up and elevate his standing in the school, which actually does the exact opposite.
Holling also notes that Mrs. Sidman has replaced Mr. Guareschi as principal for unknown reasons. On her first day, she greets all the students and even stares down Doug Swieteck's brother. At the same time, President Johnson announces that he's not going to seek another term in office. Holling listens to his dad and his sister argue over who will win, Bobby Kennedy or Richard Nixon. After the news that night, Holling learns too that Kowalski and Associates is going under, leaving Hoodhood and Associates to rule the town. When Holling asks what will happen to the Kowalski family, his dad shrugs and says that architecture is a blood sport.
Again, when Holling's dad expresses little or no emotion about someone else’s misfortune, it reinforces his callousness and selfishness—the Kowalskis' bad luck doesn't matter because the Hoodhoods are doing fine. When Holling has the wherewithal to ask about the Kowalskis, it shows him becoming more empathetic and caring for those around him as this year progresses and he comes of age.
At lunch recess the next day, Meryl Lee announces that she might be moving. Holling doesn't know what to say, so he says nothing but "toads, beetles, bats." They decide to pretend that she's not moving, and there are moments when Holling thinks they both know what the other is thinking, which he reasons is probably how Romeo and Juliet felt.
It's especially pleasing for Holling to relate his feelings for Meryl Lee to literature, which shows that he's integrating his understanding of literature into his daily life. Further, this also suggests he's reevaluated his thoughts on Romeo and Juliet, indicating that he's also maturing intellectually.
Holling continues to run cross-country every day. He gets faster, though he learns the hard way that it's dangerous to run in front of angry eighth graders: they pulled his pants down when he tried. Mrs. Baker doesn't understand why Holling won't run in front and takes the month of April to coach Holling on his running. Because Holling is running all the time, Meryl Lee is annoyed that he's not around to work on their "California Gold Rush and You" project.
Mrs. Baker somewhat resembles Holling's sister, as Mrs. Baker wants Holling to stand up for himself and not just fold to the pressure of others. She sees his unwillingness to do so as a moral failing.
One afternoon, while Holling and Meryl Lee work on their project at her house, Mr. Kowalski comes home and says that he heard that Martin Luther King, Jr. was just shot and killed. Meryl Lee and Holling watch Walter Cronkite announce it on the news. That night, Heather doesn't come down for dinner, and the next day, riots break out in major cities. On Tuesday, all of Holling's school watches Martin Luther King's funeral on television.
The fact that the entirety of Camillo Junior High watches King's funeral shows that the adults in charge of the school know that these events are important for students to witness.
Before Holling goes to bed, he reminds his dad the next day is Opening Day at the Yankee Stadium, and that he promised to drive them there and write a note to get him out of track practice. Holling ends up writing a note himself and asking his dad to sign it. Coach Quatrini barely agrees to excuse Holling, and Mrs. Baker assigns Holling his full day's work in the morning. At 12:11 P.M., eleven minutes after Holling's dad was supposed to pick him up, Holling calls Hoodhood and Associates. The secretary explains that Mr. Hoodhood has other things that are more important on his calendar for the afternoon than a baseball game.
Holling's dad’s betrayal reinforces how little he cares for his son and shows again that his promises mean nothing when there's nothing at stake for him.
Holling returns to Mrs. Baker's classroom, humiliated beyond belief as his classmates trickle in after recess and realize what happened. At 1:55 P.M., when the rest of the students are at Temple Beth-El or Saint Adelbert's, Mrs. Baker suggests that she could take Holling to the game, assuming his mother is okay with it. Holling ends up asking his sister, who doesn't care, so he and Mrs. Baker drive to the city. They reach the stadium at the bottom of the third inning and find their seats with Danny, Mr. Hupfer, Doug, and his dad.
When Mrs. Baker offers to take Holling, she again steps into a more parental role—and further, this act is one that suggests that she's forgiven or forgotten Holling's callous comments about her not having much to worry about. Similarly, by taking him to the game, Mrs. Baker recognizes that this is something important to Holling. Unlike Holling’s father, Mrs. Baker respects Holling’s interests.
Holling loves every bit of the game. Horace Clarke tosses balls to the boys, and Mr. Hupfer buys everyone hot dogs. After the game, Joe Pepitone and Horace Clark call up to Holling, Danny, and Doug to come down. As the boys scramble over the fence, Joe Pepitone notices Mrs. Baker and asks if she's "that dame" who ran in Melbourne. Mrs. Baker admits she is, and Joe Pepitone calls over other players who saw that race and admire Mrs. Baker.
When Holling has the opportunity to see Mrs. Baker outside of an educational setting and specifically, in one where she's known as a track star, not as a teacher, it expands his conception of her and helps him think of her as more of a full person.
Mrs. Baker asks the players to show them around the stadium, and they agree. When they finish the tour, Holling happily throws balls with the players and runs around the outfield. Mrs. Baker asks what the scaffolding is for, and Joe Pepitone that the stadium needs repairs, and their boss is on the lookout for a classical architect. Mrs. Baker asks to meet the boss, and Joe says he'll introduce her to him if she can hit one of his fastballs. Mrs. Baker stays at the stadium that night, while Mr. Hupfer drives Holling home.
The novel implies that Mrs. Baker is going to try to connect Kowalski and Associates with the Yankees, something she does out of care and concern for Meryl Lee and her family. This shows that Mrs. Baker is loyal and supportive of all her students and is willing to do what she can to ensure their wellbeing.
Two days later, a photo of Mrs. Baker, Danny, Doug, and Holling with the Yankees graces the front page of the Home Town Chronicle. When spring break rolls around, Holling, Danny, Mai Thi, and Meryl Lee hang out every afternoon at Woolworth's. Heather hangs out with a guy named Chit, who drives a yellow VW bug.
Woolworth's is, apparently, not the damning place Holling's sister insisted it was. Holling frequents it every day with Danny, Mai Thi, and Meryl Lee, illustrating that he has now formed a loyal community.
When Holling returns to school, Coach Quatrini announces that the varsity team must run three miles 35 seconds faster than Holling's tryout time. The eighth graders spit to the side so that it flies back and hits Holling, but he runs carefully to avoid their abuses. Afterwards, Coach Quatrini announces that they'll all be running at a meet on Saturday, and the winner will receive a $100 savings bond. Holling's family seems reasonably supportive at dinner, though Heather declares he'll die.
By this point, it's worth questioning if Holling's family's "support" means anything, given that they've shown time and again that they won't actually show up to support their son if it isn't convenient. This in turn shows both the reader and Holling learning that he cannot trust his family's support.
Holling asks how long until Heather goes to college, and his dad states that she won't be going to college. She insists she'll be going to Columbia University. As Holling's dad crushes a lima bean, he says that there aren't even any classes going on—the entire school is on strike. He insists that college is the craziest place in a crazy world right now, and she'll stay home and be safe. Holling's mother says nothing.
Holling's family is still asleep when he heads for school on Saturday morning. Holling feels mostly asleep as he walks through the fog and boards the bus. When Danny's race starts, Holling cheers with the Hupfer family and Meryl Lee. Danny pulls to the front of the large pack, and he's in the lead at the end of his fourth lap. Holling and the crowd watch for Danny when the group comes around again, but they don't see Danny until most of the runners have already passed. Finally, they see Danny limping with bloody knees. Holling knows the eighth graders tripped him. Danny finishes almost last, and his parents comfort him.
As expected, Holling's family doesn't show—but the Hupfer family and Meryl Lee demonstrate that Holling can count on them for support, even if his own family isn't here. Similarly, when Holling cheers for Danny despite their rivalry, it shows that he's also behaving in such a way as to support this small chosen family.
Holling lines up for the varsity race behind all the eighth graders. Mr. Hupfer finds him and gives him a note from Danny: "beat the pied ninnies." He tells Holling to run the others into the ground. When the race starts, Holling manages to get to the front of the pack, and he trails the eighth graders from Camillo. As Holling comes around for his first lap, he sees Danny up and cheering, Meryl Lee with a rose, and Mrs. Baker standing next to her. He continues to trail the eighth graders lap after lap. On his last lap, Mrs. Baker tells Holling to pass the eighth graders. He waits for his chance and does as he's told. When he wins, Mrs. Baker picks him up, and Meryl Lee kisses him.
When Mrs. Baker shows up to cheer on Holling, she again steps into a more parental role so she can offer him the support he lacks from his own parents. However, she still has a great deal of power as an authority figure and a teacher, chosen family member or not: Holling's tone implies that he wouldn't dream of doing anything but following her directions when she tells him to pass the eighth graders. Holling and Meryl Lee's first kiss is a coming of age moment for both of them, as it heralds their coming sexual maturity.