My school, Austin Elementary in Odessa, hadn’t had a new trophy for its trophy case in over a decade.
Even as an 11-year-old sixth grader, I felt the stigma of my school being cast a “loser.”
During my last semester there as a “wannabe” athlete who loved sports competition, I tried out for and made the school’s track team. Coach Harrison assigned me and 9 other boys to Class F, the last and lightest category for boys weighing 70 lbs. or less.
Coach Harrison selected me to compete in the high jump and to run the 3rd leg of the relay race.
I’d had some practice jumping by using the pegged high jump stands my grandfather had made for me a couple years earlier. In time I got to be pretty good at “scissor kicking” my way over the crossbar, and on a really good day I might clear 4 feet.
Our team had some preliminary meets early on during the track season, but the big day was the Annual City-Wide All-School Track Meet at Barrett Stadium. Big time in my little eyes.
I remember walking out on the field that blustery March day in 1962 and being taken aback by the 20 plus school teams, all decked out in their varied colored uniforms.
I felt excited, a little intimidated and hopeful as the competition began. When it was my turn and I was preparing to jump, I noticed my dad pushing my wheelchair-bound grandfather to a spot some 30 ft. away so he might have a better view (my granddad suffered from Parkinson’s disease among other maladies and would be deceased within 2 years).
Too young to understand the significance of the moment, in retrospect, I guess I was jumping for him as well as for my school.
I won the event with a jump of 4’1’’.
Combined with other Class F teammates’ scores, the Blue and Gold clad boys of Austin Elementary secured enough points to win its first trophy in many years. I was exhilarated and relieved.
For the first time in my life did I experience the deep satisfaction of being a part of something much greater than myself. Upon receiving the trophy a couple weeks later, Coach Harrison wrote the names of the 10 boys who contributed to winning the Class F City Championship on the back of the trophy, and prominently placed in the display case by the principal’s office.
How proud I was for my school! Over the next several years I ventured back to Austin a time or two just to see the trophy. Then in the early 1990s, when the family was in Odessa visiting my widowed father, I took my teenaged son and daughter to the school where I first learned to read and write and to show them the trophy.
To my dismay, the trophy case was gone. I inquired in the office of its whereabouts, and the principal said, because of building renovations, the case had been removed. But that she thought the trophies were placed in boxes down in the basement.
She summoned the custodian to take us there to have a look. Several minutes later we were sorting through boxes of old memorabilia, medals and trophies - and there it was!
I cradled the trophy in my hands and showed it to Charles and Noelle. The custodian looked at me and asked “Would you like to have it? I’m not sure what the school is going to do with all these trophies anyway.”
With the principal’s blessing, a few minutes later, there I was, walking out of my old school with a cherished token of days gone by.
I glanced at the names on the back and reminisced, knowing some of those boys were no longer with us.
And now, as a grandfather myself, I’ve wondered how my own granddad must have felt seeing his namesake succeed in something he helped initiate. I think I know. Taking it a bit further, I also wonder what we’re teaching kids today, when on some teams, everyone is entitled to a “participation trophy” for just showing up? How special is that? Not very.
Dare we teach them that, instead of receiving an individual trophy for just being present, the shared quest of striving hard together toward a common goal has much greater reward?
I say, like life itself, it’s good sometimes to lose and face disappointment. Makes one appreciate the victory all the more. Silly and trivial as it may seem, that little trophy - Class F 61-62 Austin - still holds a special place in my heart some 57 years later.
Charlie Norman has lived in Somervell County since 1994. He and his wife have two adult children, who graduated from Glen Rose schools. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.