In the past few weeks I’ve heard a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of participation trophies or the practice of giving trophies to every kid who participates in an activity and not just to the ones who have excelled.
I’m not sure why this conversation has become a hot topic at the beginning of the school year rather than the end or at least the end of a sporting season but strangely, it has.
Previous generations grew up in a world where only excellence was rewarded with a trophy. No kid expected to get a trophy just for showing up and now that those kids are older, most of us are quite hostile to the idea that today’s kids are being rewarded for something that we considered a baseline; showing up.
From the comments I have heard, participation trophies are regarded as a sign of everything that is wrong with today’s kids; they’re entitled, they’re soft, they can’t take disappointment, can’t or refuse to handle being offended and each and every one considers themselves a special little snowflake. Pretty much the way every generation throughout history has had a low opinion of the next.
I’ve heard a few coaches argue that for kids who are not athletically gifted, the prospect of getting a trophy at the end of the season can keep them motivated to stick it out to the end and help teach perseverance. But this argument is very much in the minority.
I’m finding it a little hard to be opposed to participation trophies since I am probably the only baby boomer ever to have received one. Or at least I think I got one. I’ve never been sure since participation trophies had not been invented in 1967.
But if I may say so myself, I was a very special snowflake. I was, quite possibly, the very worst peewee football player ever to complete a full season. I showed up for every practice, went to every game, even the championship game that was unfortunately one of the only two games that we lost all season and even got to play for a few seconds near the end of the games in which we had a comfortable lead and there was little chance for me to do any real damage.
From the first, it was my Dad’s dream for me to be a football player, not my own. Obviously I knew that being a football player was a fairly direct route to popularity and the attentions of the prettier girls and those were big pluses but the main draw was the possibility that I could make Dad proud of me.
It seemed like a no-brainer until, five minutes into the first practice, I realized that I hated it. Hated it with a passion that I have never felt before or since. Until that moment, I had not realized how distasteful I found being knocked down or how little desire I felt to knock down others.
The coach put me on the defensive line since I had no skill at handling the ball. Couldn’t throw worth a crap and couldn’t catch it if my life depended on it. Besides I was a big kid, barely sliding in under the weight limit for my age group. The coach had every reason to believe that any and all of the boys who showed up for football were great fans of physical violence but sadly, in my case that was simply not true.
And so ensued almost four months of sheer torture. I wouldn’t quit and they didn’t fire me. This is not one of those inspirational stories where perseverance pays off and results in improvement or character development. No, far from it. I did not get one bit better. All I gained was a hatred of football that did not abate until my daughter was a teenager and against all odds, became a huge New York Giants fan. I love watching the games with her now and doing everything I can to keep her children from being won over to the dark side by their father, a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.
The only thing I missed the whole season was the awards banquet after everything was over. I hadn’t counted on that. When that championship game was over, I thought the whole mess was over and I could put the debacle of football behind me. But no, the agony of watching the other boys being rewarded for their excellence and feeling like a fraud for even being there was still to be endured.
But when the day came, my grandmother was having surgery at Baptist Hospital and my Mom could never find her way in and out of Winston so Dad had to drive her and I didn’t have a ride to the banquet. Thank God. Meemaw always had my back. This agony at least, I would be spared.
Then a week or so later, one of the coaches showed up at the house and handed me a trophy. Suspiciously, it was not engraved and he told me to take it to Bocock-Stroud in Winston and they would engrave it for me. The whole story made no sense and I was too embarrassed to ask what the trophy was for and he didn’t say. As you may have guessed, I never took the trophy to be engraved so to this day, I don’t know what it was for but there can be only one explanation. In late November of 1967, the participation trophy was invented and I got the first one.
That is not to say that it was not prominently displayed in my parent’s living room until long after I moved out. It had pride of place on my Dad’s side of the couch right beside his ash tray where, as a bonus, it was sure to be seen by any young lady I brought home to meet the family. Unlike the young ladies of today, those girls had no idea I earned that trophy just for showing up.
Bill Colvard is lifestyle writer for the Mount Airy News and can be reached at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.