Persons, places and things: Who needs a trophy?

Barb Arland-Fye

Catholic journalists attending a conference in Peoria, Ill., listened intently as speaker Dominic Perri described what generational differences mean to how we report and deliver news.
Perri, a consultant from Chicago, asked a seemingly innocent question: Who remembered receiving a trophy as a child for being part of a sports team? A few hands went up, but not mine. What about our kids? How many of them received a trophy for being part of a sports team? Those of us in the audience at the Peoria Diocese’s headquarters last week laughed, including me and Anne Marie Amacher, assistant editor of The Catholic Messenger. Of course every member of a sports team receives a trophy because we want to affirm and encourage our children for doing their best. Trophies build self-esteem and prevent the trauma of failure.
I wasn’t much of an athlete as a child. The disappointments I experienced in softball, swimming and gymnastics hurt, but didn’t scar me for life. I pursued other interests for which God had given me aptitude.
As a mom, however, I plead guilty to wanting my two sons to avoid failure and disappointment in sports or in any other aspect of their lives. Colin, my older son with autism, has a slew of trophies he’s accumulated playing Challenger League Baseball, Sled Hockey and Special Olympics. Most have been acquired simply because he participated. Patrick, my younger son, has trophies from his elementary school years playing Little League baseball, basketball and soccer for a short time. Again, most of the trophies were awarded for participation. Nonetheless, my sons have experienced disappointments and failures but with these have come opportunities to learn and grow.
For Colin, the lessons learned have been a little less conventional and predictable. He doesn’t readily pick up on social cues, so his reaction to wins and losses depends on other extraneous factors such as interference with his written schedule. If his friends are going to the State Special Olympics because they qualified, he thinks he should go, too, even if he hasn’t qualified.
For Patrick, disappointments and failures have led him to persevere and focus on things that really matter. That growth has been a reward for him and for me.
But at what point are disappointment and failure truly demoralizing and require intervention? Several high school football teams in our region have suffered abysmal losses over a long period of time. I imagine these boys feeling humiliated, dejected and in despair. I have the urge to call a huddle and ask the folks in charge to find a way to help these kids experience some success. Give them a trophy for trying? No, as always, this is God’s call. Whether it’s on the football field, in the workplace, at home or in a hospital bed, adversity requires a far greater source of encouragement than any trophy.
Romans 5:4-5 tells us “We know that affliction makes for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope. And this hope will not leave us disappointed because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts.”
Perri, the consultant who spoke at the conference organized by The Catholic Post of Peoria, observes that each generation is shaped by the world in which it comes of age. But for people of faith, the thing that transcends our differences is our belief in and our relationship with God.
That is God’s trophy to us.
Barb Arland-Fye

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