What I Think: About Participation Trophies 4

Disclaimer:

Sorry folks, but this one probably isn’t going to be very funny either: For the sake of expediency in future posts, lets just agree that, when you see the title begins with “What I Think:”, you should just skip right on by if you’re just looking for a laugh. Hopefully I’ll find something to laugh at soon (after all, I do stupid stuff on a pretty regular basis). That said, if you proceed, you have no one to blame but yourself.

I hope you do read on, and I hope it makes you think (even if it just makes you think I’m a jackass.) Enjoy!

What I Think: About Participation Trophies:

A lot of people out there seem to think that one of the problems with America, one of the primary reasons our society seems to be circling the drain, one of the liberal travesties inflicted upon us by political correctness that has caused the manhood of our nation to whither, is participation trophies, and, as much as I hate to say it; I have to agree.

I’ve received my fair share of participation trophies; we all have. I was a kid in Little League before the advent of these horrific, priority-twisting, manhood-cheapening, touchy-feely symbols of the liberal mommy-state, but I’ve done the “fun runs” (talk about two words that should never be used together), and the charity events where everybody gets a t-shirt, and sometimes even a cheap medal) just for participating. You don’t have to win, or even place. You just have to get to the finish line before the organizers get bored with waiting and go home. Sometimes they even pass them out beforehand.

I’ve gone to college, where they give you free stuff all the time, just for being a student. There’s no GPA requirement, no minimum class position, hell, most of the time, you don’t really even have to be a student; you just have to be willing to stand in line to get whatever crap they’re giving away! Thanks for playing!!!

I was in the Air Force for 20 years, and trust me, the military is the gold standard for participation trophies – they just call ’em medals. Now I want to be perfectly clear here, not all military medals are mere participation trophies; the combat medals, Purple Heart, Bronze and Silver Stars, Congressional Medal of Honor, and many more are the real deal, and I have nothing but respect for the brave men and women who sacrificed so much on our behalf.

No, what I’m talking about are the Good Conduct Medals, the Longevity Ribbons, and the others that you get for basically showing up and not screwing up (too badly anyway), and that includes some of the important-sounding ones, like the USAF Global War On Terror Service Medal. Here is the criteria for that one, direct from the AF Personnel Center website.

Not only does the criteria specifically say, “Individuals must have participated in or served in support of the Global War on Terrorism-specified operations . . .” but read the last paragraph of the criteria; you don’t even have to have left the country, or faced any danger to qualify. You simply have to have participated somehow.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not belittling those medals either; I’m the recipient of several of them. The people who got them earned them doing vital jobs. It doesn’t change the fact that it is still basically a participation medal.

Today, when I got up, there was an email from the school, telling me I had been selected as the “Outstanding Student in English” for 2017 (I know, this is a long way to go for a little cheap self-congratulation, huh?). I skimmed it, and went on with my day. No big deal. I figured there were probably at least 10 of us who’d been selected.

I didn’t realize it was a big deal (and I’ll grant you that “big deal” is really subjective), until I got to work at the Writing Center, and my boss told me “Congratulations!”

I asked her, “For what?”

She was kind enough to explain to me that it really was a big deal (at least in the world of Richmond, Indiana academia – like I said, importance is subjective). I didn’t really know how to respond. Still don’t really. I don’t know how to accept accolades – I’ve never really had one.

The closest I’ve ever really come to being singled out for distinction (at least in a good way) was, ironically enough, in Little League. One of the coaches bought, every year, and out of his own pocket, two trophies (and these were the big, cool ones, not the tiny ones); one for his team’s MVP, and one for the player with the best batting average (or some similar accomplishment). The year I was on his team, he bought three trophies; I didn’t get the MVP trophy, nor was I eligible for the Batting Trophy.

Nope, my performance on his team had inspired him to purchase and award to me the Sportsmanship Trophy! He said he’d never seen a kid who was such a good sport, and that I had really impressed him. Yay me!

Now, I don’t want to downplay that trophy, it was really nice of him to recognize me like that, but trust me, as a 10- or 12-year old kid who worshiped Pete Rose, I didn’t want to be a good sport, I wanted to be a good baseball player. Well, you can’t always get what you want. At any rate, you get the idea, my entire life, including a career in the military distinguished only by it’s utter lack of distinction, has left me completely unprepared to accept any genuine recognition of excellence.

The numerous free t-shirts and various other “participant” awards, ribbons, and medals I’ve received over the years meant exactly that to me – just a nice reminder that I was a part of something bigger for a while.

I suppose it could be argued that the problem isn’t with the participation trophies – after all, 95% of all the kids who get them know their significance immediately, or quickly figure it out, and, if the remaining 5% need that sort of validation at that tender age, then it’s good that they get it – but that the problem lies with those who so vehemently oppose the idea of them; the people who think that because of their own, or their child’s, special skill with a stick or a ball, that their trophy’s significance is decreased by the participation trophies. That it makes them, or their kid, less special, less deserving of respect, recognition, or special treatment.

Because that’s what a trophy really comes down to isn’t it? Trophies should only go to stars. We all want to be stars, but if everyone is a star, then no one is. And we need stars, don’t we? If there were no stars with trophies or awards for “excellence” in sports, or music, or acting, or war, then who would all those masses of losers look up to?

It could also be argued that an equally fair solution to the problem would be to get rid of all the trophies; after all, which is more pitiful – the 10-year-old with a participation trophy, or the adult, clinging to his or her Little League/High School/College glory days with his or her trophy collection on the mantle? It could be argued that without all those loser “participants” then the stars wouldn’t have anything to compare their own excellence to, so how would they (and everyone else) know how special they are?

It could even be argued that really, it’s just a manufactured issue; an overly simple judas goat, meant to distract people from recognizing the very real, actual sources of the myriad problems with our modern society (and yes, I know that Wikipedia is not considered a reliable source. I’m the IU East 2017 Outstanding Student in English, for Pete’s sake!).

Nah, it’s probably just those damned participation trophies. We get rid of them, everything’ll be right as rain.

4 thoughts on “What I Think: About Participation Trophies

  1. Reply Kim waggoner Mar 22,2017 11:47 pm

    I’m proud of you and your Outstanding English Student award.
    I really am. 🙂
    I won $5 for a Haiku I had written ( in college) , and my poetry teacher had entered it into a contest for me. I didn’t know anything about it until someone told me it had been announced during an awards assembly. I didn’t go to awards assemblies because I never expected an award, I guess. I didn’t even go to my college graduation ceremony…so yeah, awards aren’t all that much to me either.
    But then one day I became a first grade teacher, and found out how much fun awards are for the students, their parents, and the teacher who is giving them out!!🏆🏅😊

    • Reply moonandjess@frontier.com Mar 23,2017 12:05 am

      Thanks Kim! So then, because of your teaching experience that kids pretty much automatically understand the significance of awards, trophies, etc. They get them, they’re excited for a little bit, and they move on. The award is largely forgotten because they know there are more important things in life. It’s us adults who inflate the importance of that stuff. They have way more significance for us as parents than they do for the kids. Kids have a much healthier perspective on most things than adults. I’m not really in favor of getting rid of trophies, either for winners or participants. I think that, for kids, they do provide a confidence boost that a lot of them need. I know I could have used a confidence boost when I was a kid.

      Also, very belated congratulations on the Haiku win: I certainly couldn’t have done it – I’m deeply poetry-impaired! Take care, and thanks for reading!

  2. Reply dispennett Mar 31,2017 3:30 am

    I enjoyed your post. I served 10 years in the Army, but it didn’t take me long to get to the point where I could either take or leave (i.e. pretty much leave) all of the awards and medals, even the ones that weren’t participation medals, and that I actually earned. At the risk of sounding cynical, so many of those military awards have as much to do with the writing abilities of the recommender as they do with what the awardee actually accomplished–embellishment is not at all uncommon (at least that’s how it was in the units I was with in the Army. Maybe your experience in the Air Force was different). Much more valuable to me than any of those medals are the memories I have of the people I met while I was deployed, the Iraqis that I was (hopefully) able to help or assist in my own small, feeble way. Those memories, and those people, mean much more to me than any award I ever received. Indeed, I think we sell ourselves short–and maybe even infantilize ourselves–when we cling to external accolades. If we want to receive the approval that ultimately comes from God, it helps to let go of our attachment to the praise that comes from others.

  3. Reply The Reluctant Girl Scout May 11,2017 8:28 pm

    I missed this when you posted it. Congratulations on your “Major Award” from the English Department at IUE. I used to get to vote on who got that thing every year, and it IS a big deal. It was a big deal to us, too, to make sure a student who really was deserving of it got it. So puff your chest out a little more for goodness sake! (And put it on your CV.)

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