Today’s lesson: Show up, get a prize

February 19, 2013 

My generation likes to poke fun at the latest group of youngsters for growing up in the Participation Award Era. It’s a time when many points are giving for trying and losing as they are for winning.

It usually just serves as a punch line to the joke geezers like me like to crack.

Let me stress the word usually.

My daughter recently participated in a gymnastics meet. There were teams. There were coaches. There were even perfectly coiffed gymnasts in sparkling leotards. But most importantly, there were judges who scored each event on a 10-point scale. Girls would go tumble for tumble spinning toward the gold medal. They would trade perfect dismounts, fly from bars with ease and balance as well as possible on a tiny swath of beam, all reaching for a top score.

It actually resembled a sport!

The competitor in me scribbled the results of those in my daughter’s grouping to see where she stood. I cheered with pride at an awesome vault where the landing was stuck and felt her disappointment when momentum carried her off that darned beam. This wasn’t going to be a participation medal event, but rather a fight to hoist trophies!

Once the dust settled, the points were tallied, the podiums were put in place, and the medals were unfurled. They even lined the girls up by how they placed. I’m fine with recognizing all the participants – they deserved it, but here’s where I come to the good news/bad news portion of this column:

The good news is that my daughter won five medals. You might even think that’s great news! The bad news is that every girl won five medals. It might be better to say they received five medals because clearly winning wasn’t a priority for the event organizers.

To make things worse, all of the medals were exactly the same. The gymnast who did the best got the same five medals as the person who did the worst. It is almost like the meet planners got a call from Big Lots the week before to liquidate 500 medals that had just arrived on a wayward boat from China.

It doesn’t just cheapen the experience for the spectators, it cheapens it for the participants, too. Whether it is 20 years from now or 20 days, my daughter won’t have any clue where she placed or which event it even was that she placed in.

Truth be told, it wasn’t one of her better meets, but we’ll never know that once I throw away the program I wrote the score in. It will be henceforth known as the Irmo 5 Medal Invitational, and it is proof positive that the Participation Award Era is alive and well.

Reach Scott Cost at

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