James Harrison on Earning It

JH Trophies
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison with the participation trophies he gave back

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy,” Harrison said in a post on Instagram. “I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.”

Where were you James Harrison, linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, back in 1972? Yes, your principled stand of returning participation trophies your sons  didn’t earn is newsworthy today. But I sure could have used your help at our Boy Scout Camporee.

The annual competition  of scouting and camp craft skills drew every troop in the area. It was a chance to measure ourselves against other scouts in a healthy, structured way. Individual patrols would compete in first aid, fire building, orienteering, knot tying and fitness events,  and be scored by judges for their campsites, cooking and adherence to the Boy Scout Manual. It was a challenging competition and we loved it.

Low scoring patrols were awarded a yellow participation ribbon, patrols in the 80th percentile won a red ribbon, blue ribbons were given for 90th percentile, and all our ribbons were proudly displayed on our troop’s flagpole. We had lots of yellows and reds, and quite a few blues on our pole. They were a source of pride for us because we earned them. The yellow ribbons were proof that it wasn’t easy to win a red or blue ribbon, and it made them worth celebrating.

But the one thing we didn’t have was a Presidential Award ribbon.

A giant red, white and blue ribbon was presented to the one patrol with the highest score each year. After all the blue ribbons had been awarded, the winning patrol would be brought forth, and the honor of being the very best would be bestowed upon them. Each year we would wait to see who would take home the Presidential Award, and each year we all cheered for them. And each year, we were all, very, very jealous.

Our day of competition started out okay. We struggled a bit with First Aid and had a few points deducted. But then we had Fire Building, our specialty, and set a Camporee record. We won our heat in the Chariot Race, got the top time in the 1 Mile Race, and were one of the very few patrols to complete the Orienteering challenge. A little hiccup at dinner where we lost points for dirty hands and a safety violation for a hatchet stuck in a tree. But all told, we were only down 6 points for the whole day’s competition.

Our Scoutmaster was out of his head with excitement. “Do you know what this means, boys? 294 out of 300 possible points. Incredible! We’re getting the Presidential Award for sure!!”

We sat at the awards campfire excited as hell, ready to claim the first ever Presidential Award for Troop 221. We would go down in history for our achievement, the scrappy little group of misfits who defied the odds and beat out everyone with 294 points! Hey, this has got to be an all time record, right?

Then our big moment finally arrived, and we stepped up to receive our, what the hell is this? A white ribbon? Where’s our Presidential Award, the huge red, white and blue ribbon?! The one we saw someone else go home with every single year before us. What the hell!?!

Turns out that year someone decided that competition was bad and gave everyone white participation ribbons.

We raged long into the night. Knocking over tents, stomping out campfires, rampaging throughout the campsite yelling, “294 points!” at the top of our lungs. The dads turned a blind eye to our acting out, knowing we’d been robbed. Hell, they probably wanted to join us.

Healthy competition is good. Kids need to learn how to push themselves to earn something, and accept their results no matter how disappointing. Why bother keeping score if everyone gets the same fake reward? Sure we were jealous all those years we didn’t win, but it made us better. It made us want it, made us hungry and willing to work harder. But when we were not rewarded when we did win,  it made us bitter.

We sure could have used you back then, James Harrison, to make things right and get us the award we had clearly earned. I hope your boys are getting all of this…

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