When “Participation Trophies” Matter

Baseball trophy with batter running

Michael’s trophy

My son Michael is a special boy in more ways than one. He’s sharp as a tack and has ingenuity coming out of his pores–especially when it comes to finding a way around rules and obstacles (especially those we set up to protect him or the house). He’s also one of many children who require special services.

This year, my son participated in Little League Challenger Baseball. It’s adaptive baseball for children and young adults with a multitude of disabilities. It’s a chance for them to experience the joy of accomplishment, get some exercise, be around others and learn about team sports. There are no outs, no swing limits, no multiple base hits. Everyone gets on base and everyone gets an opportunity to shine.

There were kids with Downs Syndrome, some had leg braces or walkers, and others had issues I couldn’t identify. Some of them could REALLY hit (as long as there was no 3-strikes rule), one helped Michael’s team by making sure the batters were ready and lined up (I called him “the assistant coach”), and one fielded like a pro. They all had fun.

Michael is only five, and he’s new to this. He usually liked hitting, hung out in the outfield during his team’s turn on defense, and sometimes even stayed on and ran the bases. He liked being outside and exploring in and outside the field, but didn’t get the “stay in one place” or “follow the rules” concept.

In truth, it was more of a workout for my daughter, my husband and I, but I felt it was generally successful. After all, we did it so he could have the experience and get out of the house. We also learned how to encourage him to get involved, where is limits were in such a setting, and how fast he could be when he was in an open field and didn’t want to be caught. We also learned that we needed to prepare him better next year.

He was at every game that wasn’t rained out (bar one, when it was REALLY hot). When he reached home base, he was very proud. One time, when he was on third, I was telling him what to do next, and he jumped the gun and stole home!

Yesterday was the last game, and ended with trophies and pizza. Every participant got a trophy. Watching them rush to get their awards was great! There was so much joy and pride! This might have been the only time in their lives that they won anything, and some of them were in their 20’s!

I know “participation trophies” are generally looked down on, and I can see why. The phrase has become a by-word for unearned accolades. And in the general population, I agree they can be annoying.

However, in this case, I hope no one sneers. Seeing how hard these teams played, the dedication of the parents and volunteers (some carrying their charges around the bases), and the excitement the participants had in fielding, hitting and running, I see that there is a place for “participation trophies.” Because sometimes you actually earn them!

2 thoughts on “When “Participation Trophies” Matter

  1. Lisa, Thanks for sharing this beautiful reflection. Mom and I are so proud of you, Richard, and Caitlin for being so supportive and loving of Michael. We wish that we could have been there to be a part of Michael’s experience. Please have Michael’s trophy on prominent display when we visit, so that we can gush over him. We love you all very much!! Dad and Mom

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  2. Thank you Lisa for sharing this, and showing us that sometimes participation trophies are more precious than first place “competition” trophies. Your article is a beautiful insight for those of us who have never been to such an event. It is uplifting, so full of joy and love. What I see is that God’s love is truly present there in the hearts of all involved.

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