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Darrell Huckaby: There are no winners without competition

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

What is the world coming to? I've been asking myself that for a while now without getting an answer I relish. I think the world took a turn for the worse when schools started trying to elevate feelings over achievement. Self-esteem became a catchword and those who stand out above the crowd, in many venues, are no longer recognized for their achievement for fear that doing so might somehow negatively affect the self-esteem of a child who hasn't worked hard enough or, quite frankly, doesn't have the ability or the background to achieve at a high level.

The entire philosophy of No Child Left Behind, after all, is designed to bring all students toward the middle, no matter how many times government bureaucrats dance around and insist that the opposite is true.

My son teaches at North Oconee High School. He also is an assistant basketball coach, and I spent a lot of time in their gym this winter. On one wall of the gym, close to the scoreboard, is a plaque containing the NOHS vision statement. "North Oconee High School will be a nationally recognized high school in academic achievement by ensuring all students receive rigorous, balanced education that will enable them to compete in and contribute to a global society." The folks at North Oconee realize that students need to be prepared to compete.

Good for them. Life in the 21st century is full of competition. Those who are coming of age in this century will be competing for jobs, for resources, for position in society, for positions of leadership -- just as people who have come of age in every period of history have been forced to compete.

In competition there are winners and losers. Period. Losing isn't as much fun as winning. Ask any Georgia fan who was in the Georgia Dome on the first day of last December how much losing hurts. The Alabama folks who walked past after the game were certainly happier than I was. Nick Saban was happier than Mark Richt. But I am certain that Mark Richt, and the players under his charge, left that building determined to work even harder in the year to come.

Vince Lombardi, who knew a little bit about competition, once famously remarked, "There is no greater feeling a man can have than to lay on the field of battle, completely exhausted, victorious!"

I have competed my entire life -- in sports and otherwise. I have won and I have lost and the wins never felt as good as the losses felt bad, but if I had never lost I would never have appreciated the feeling that Lombardi spoke of that came with winning.

Years ago, youth sports programs began "protecting young people's self-esteem" by turning off the scoreboards and refusing to keep score during athletic contests. If there are no winners there can be no losers. Don't think for a minute that every kid in those programs didn't know what the score had been. These same programs began giving out "participation trophies" to every child who played. The right-fielder who batted .023 got the same recognition as the best player on the team. I was that right-fielder when I played for the Porterdale Yankees, and if I had been given such a trophy I would have known that it was bogus and it would have meant as much as the attic full of discarded participation trophies my kids accumulated in soccer, basketball, softball and swimming did.

Somehow this philosophy expanded to academics, and school after school after school has taken steps to protect the feelings of the underachiever -- at the expense of recognizing those who have worked so hard to achieve. Time and again those students have failed to receive their due recognition as Honor Roll requirements have been watered down and All A honor rolls have been altered to create Almost All A honor rolls and All A-B honor rolls and Almost All A-B honor rolls. Just don't hurt anyone's feelings.

This week, in Massachusetts, another group of high achievers has fallen subject to the specter of inclusiveness. David Fabrizio, principal of Ipswich Middle School has canceled Honors Night because, in his words, "Honors Night can be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade-point average." He goes on to explain that some children don't receive the same amount of academic support at home as others.

So there you have it. Since everyone hasn't achieved, no one shall be rewarded.

Shame on David Fabrizio. Shame on the good folks of Ipswich, Mass., who put up with this. Shame on schools everywhere who are failing to recognize that their students need to learn to compete and that fail to recognize -- and reward -- those who go above and beyond.

This time last year I was advised that I might have as few as six months to live. I was ready to take the doctor's word for it and give up. A high school friend, Bonham Johnson, wrote on my Facebook wall, "The Darrell Huckaby that I knew was a fierce competitor."

I decided to compete -- and here I am. Thank God I had been taught how.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck008@gmail.com. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.