There has been a lot of discussion about the awarding of “participation” trophies to kids who show-up for organized sporting events. Steelers’ defensive legend James Harrison made his two young boys return “participation” trophies they were given, saying kids should not be rewarded if they don’t win.  

A whole bunch of mommies and daddies disagree with Harrison, but I think there are a lot who also question what message “everyone is a winner” sends to children.  

Here is how I remember it. In the 1950s, my family went to a group picnic where the activities included all kinds of races and games; from stone throwing to hop, skip and jump contests to sack races.  The winner of each event was presented with a shiny (real) silver dollar.  

The only event I had any shot at was the sack race. I don’t remember which of my brothers I was paired with, but I remember the excitement when we were leading the pack for a couple seconds — we didn’t win. But, I was part of the group, part of a two man team, part of a race, part of an event. I was a participant. That alone was trophy enough for a kid of that young age.

On that same day, another game was a scramble for pennies. A fellow stood on a ladder and slew out a bowl full of pennies into the grass, kids then raced in to gather all the pennies they could.

I scooped up a bunch and when the scrambling stopped, we kids compared counts. I had far and away the most. Remember, the organizers announced up front the winner of each event would receive a silver dollar.

Since I had the most pennies, I was pronounced the winner. I marched up to receive my silver dollar. The fellow in charge politely pooh poohed me, saying the pennies were my prize. Well, that fellow never messed with me before. I had a temper, and he was going to find out. As firmly as a small kid could, I let him know the rules. “You said the winner of each game gets a silver dollar. I won. Where is my silver dollar?” I demanded. There was no stopping me. I was as upset as a kid could be. Finally, my dad and probably a couple brothers dragged me away, but they did not calm me down.

Points to be taken here are that I was fine with losing on the fair and square, as in the sack race, but winning is winning. I enjoyed participating in the sack race and that was reward enough. I did my double darned best in the penny scramble, had the most pennies to prove it and I did not get what I felt was “justice.” I felt, though I didn’t have the words for it at the time, that I was a victim of appeasement.

I have thought about this a lot. We didn’t get – follow me here – participation awards for participation because in every case the participation itself was the reward/award.

To participate in Boy Scouts, organized sports, summer camp, swimming lessons, hikes and overnights, fishing trips and wiener roasts were the reward. Now, you can’t convince someone to sign up for a credit card that doesn’t have a good “rewards” program.

Who the heck would have imagined 30 years ago, that a credit card company would give you a bonus for paying your bill on time for six months straight? Or your car insurance would send you a bonus check for not getting boozed up and taking out a street sign every six months?  

Oh no, I’m getting wound up and about to skid off the rails. Look out kiddos, Billy Pilgrim here is coming unstuck in time.  

Deep breaths have been taken. But do you wonder, as do I, what entitlements these children will expect 20 years from now, for “no down payment and no interest till…” God knows when? Please, let them lose now and maybe even hurt just a little from something that heals much stronger than the original wound.

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