Sam's Victory
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They say that in Africa there is a legend about bravery. As the tale goes, the perfect way for a Warrior to gain courage is to eat the Heart of a Lion. When he is of age, the young Warrior enters the jungle and kills a Lion. After his conquest, he eats the heart of the Lion. The strength of the Lion is then mystically passed on to the Warrior. 

The question is: Does this work for a Box of Wheaties too?  I recently had the chance to answer this important question myself. 

The Story of Samantha Archer's Field Day Victory

One day in April 2001 my daughter Samantha, age 9, reminded me about Field Day at her school, Duchesne Academy. I frowned as she mentioned it. "Oh no, not again", I thought to myself. 

As you might gather, I have all the makings of a Sports Dad. I would love for my daughter to be a jock, but have worked hard to let her pursue her own interests despite my private hopes.

My open-minded attitude doesn't keep me from trying a little gentle persuasion. For example, I take her with me to the gym when I play volleyball. I take her with me to another gym when I play basketball. I throw the ball to her during my spare moments and encourage her while she shoots baskets. But it has all been for naught. Sam has simply never been very interested in sports. 

Just to illustrate my despair, one night when she was about 7 Sam came upstairs while I watched a Houston Rockets basketball game. I smiled as she crawled into my lap. She looked at the screen and asked, "Dad, is that Hakeem Olajuwon playing?" 

I smiled broadly and replied, "Yes, Honey, that's Hakeem. Good for you!  Are you starting to get more interested in watching basketball?"

"Oh no, Daddy, I was just having trouble getting to sleep. I came up because I knew watching the game would help put me to sleep". 

Well, that ended that conversation!  Sure enough, Sam was sound asleep about two missed free throws later. I just shook my head. I was too happy with the magic of having Sam fall asleep in my arms to be very upset, but I still rolled my eyes at the implications of her unintentional remark. 

And now Sam had reminded my about Field Day, my worst nightmare!  Dread filled my Soul. 

The Background Story Behind Sam's Field Day

Field Day is the only sports event Sam participates in. Once a year all the girls in the Lower School are divided up into 14 teams and compete in various relay races like kicking the soccer ball and throwing a softball. Later in the day they move into the gym and have further relay races dribbling a basketball and skipping rope as they run down the floor. 

Sam's team finished dead last the first year I watched and has finished last or near the bottom of the pack for the next four years after that. In my opinion, Sam could be a good athlete if she showed more interest. She isn't the fastest girl in her class, but she isn't the slowest either. And she is tall and has pretty good coordination. I know she has at least some athletic ability because she is a highly praised dancer. Unfortunately although she improves every year, Sam has never been able to excel at Field Day. 

Still, the PE people at Duchesne do a good job of encouraging the girls. They rig it so that no matter how poorly a team does, the girls always seem to carry home a veritable bevy of ribbons. For example, they hand out a lot of 4th and 5th place ribbons. I also suspect them of giving out extra ribbons for no particular reason (First place for being First out on the Field), but this is just a vague suspicion.  However I know for a fact one of their greatest tricks is the All-Lower School Softball Toss. 7 teams merge to compete as one against the other 7 teams who also compete as one in the Softball Toss. As a result, there are only two teams. Every kid goes home with at least one first or second place ribbon!!  Isn't that clever?

After her first year Yellow Team finished in last place, little 5-year old Sam somehow managed to come home with four ribbons of varying colors. While I am sitting there trying to figure out how a member of the bottom-dwelling team corralled four ribbons, Sam beamed with pride as she showed them to her mother. Judy exclaimed with undeniable joy, "Wow, Sam, you really cleaned up!  Good job!"  Sam grinned from ear to ear, Judy grinned from ear to ear, and I just shook my head in incredulity. How did Duchesne ever pull this one off?  Never underestimate the power of ribbons at a girl's school. 

Each year since then Sam has managed to come home with a carload of ribbons despite a series of near the bottom finishes. For five years I have watched the Yellow Team suffer one sports embarrassment after another. I was dreading this final year in particular. To add to my despair, Sam was now reminding me this year she was Captain of her Yellow Team at Field Day. Still I smiled as I sensed how much pleasure Sam was taking in her responsibility of being the co-leader of her team. 

Each team has about 15 girls from Pre-K, K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Grades. The honor of being team captain goes to the 4th Grade members of each team. This year Sam shared the Yellow Team Captaincy with two other 4th grader teammates, Nicole Maarraoui and Maggie Wurzer. 

Although I was pleased at how seriously Sam was taking her duties as Captain, when she wasn't looking I couldn't help but dread yet another whipping. The year before I had missed the first half of Field Day, but as I arrived for the second half her mother Judy told me Sam's team had seemed to be doing very well in the morning events. As I started to watch, I noticed some talent but there was always something going wrong. 

In particular I remembered clearly a large lead in the jump rope contest evaporating before my very eyes. It is a relay race where the girls run and skip over the jump rope at the same time. It seems one hapless Pre-K girl had probably never jump roped in her life. She refused to take a step until the rope hit the floor and stopped so she could carefully walk across it. Visions of the jump rope turtle among the hares came flooding back into my mind. 

As I sat at the table listening to my daughter, I felt I could not deal with yet a sixth year of disappointment. But as I saw Sam's enthusiasm about being a team captain, my better instincts were restored and I quickly assured her I would be there to watch from start to finish. Next year she would be in Middle School and Field Day would only be a memory. 

I decided I was tough enough to make it through one more year. But I wasn't looking forward to it...

Preparing for Duchesne Field Day

A week before the event, Sam told me her team had won a couple of practice races that day. My ears perked up!! Sam said that there were some really fast Pre-K girls on the team. She thought her team would do pretty well this year. I was incredulous, but with a raised eyebrow I encouraged her to keep talking. The skeptical side of me said Sam must be leaving something out. 

But Sam seemed to know what she was talking about. As she described the play-by-play, Sam said that in the relay race, she herself hadn't done too well, but some little 2nd Grader nicknamed "The Roadrunner" had made up the difference single-handedly and won the race!  Sam's eyes got even bigger as she said, "Gee, Dad, she's really small, but you should see those little legs get moving! She's just a blur!"  No kidding, I thought. Hmm.

Just maybe…

So for the rest of the week every time I saw Sam, we talked "Strategy". Get that jump rope girl some extra practice!!  Tell everyone to run as hard as they could because even 2nds and 3rds add up in a track event. Have everyone practice to receive the ball or baton cleanly during the relay hand-offs. To her credit Sam seemed to really be listening. I was pretty impressed by the level of her concentration.

The Box of Wheaties,  Breakfast of Champions

I was so impressed in fact that I decided to share my greatest sports trophy with her. Yes, you guessed it!!  On the morning of Friday, April 20, Sam and I opened up Laura Wilkinson's Box of Wheaties for the ritualistic eating of the Breakfast of Champions. What a hoot!!  

The Wheaties were pretty good too. It was my first bowl in about 30 years. I guess the excitement of eating the Wheaties was too much for me since I immediately started to get carried away. I decided to give Sam a pep talk.

I started by telling Sam that the Box was magic. It had been sent to us by the best athlete in the entire world in her event. It symbolized a commitment to excellence, to doing the best you can do with the ability you have. I told my daughter that despite her self-image as a non-athlete, if she tried as hard as she could, she would contribute immensely to her team's success. I threw out so many sports clichés you would roll your eyes in despair if I tried them on you, but Sam just smiled and listened politely. 

I even told her the story of how African Warriors kill Lions and eat their hearts out to become brave. I attempted to draw a parallel between eating the Lion's heart and eating the Wheaties. This time Sam rolled her eyes and said, "Dad, did you make that up?  That's ridiculous!"

My feelings devastated, I quietly decided not to tell her about the "Win One for the Gipper" story.

Why does BS like this always work in Disney movies and not in real life? 

Let the Games Begin!!

And off to Duchesne we went. The first order of business was the Team Cheers. Each team makes up its own cheers and performs them for the other girls and the parents. I was genuinely impressed at how crisp the Yellow Team performed their Cheer. If I were a judge, I would have placed them at the top. Someone clearly had had a hand in organizing these girls because many of the other teams were completely out of sync. It turned out my daughter had organized them! Hmm. Maybe some of that dance training was paying off. 

The Yellow Team won a slam dunk victory in the Soccer Relay. It wasn't even close! I was stunned. In six years, it was the first time I had ever seen the Yellow Team win anything. In fact I had never even seen them come in second or third, and now they had won the first event of the day. I noticed another Yellow team Dad. I mentioned to him how I had never seen the Yellow Team do so well before. 

The gentleman responded by saying the Yellow Team had been pretty good last year, finishing Third overall. I was incredulous!  Apparently when Judy, Sam's mother, had told me they were doing pretty good last year, in fact they were doing very well. It was the jump rope fiasco that had cost them dearly. This was a good team!

Now I really started to get interested. Through the day the Yellow Team and the Brown Team seemed to finish first, second, or third in every event. But it is very difficult to follow these races since not everything is "head to head" nor is there a scoreboard to help keep track. All I could do was wonder and hope. 

I smiled as I watched Sam continue to coach. I noticed for the first time that she has excellent leadership skills. While other Captains talked to each other, Sam was talking to all the little kids on her team and keeping them interested. They were always organized and prepared to run when it was their turn. As a result they avoided some of the fiascoes the other teams faced when girls would run the wrong direction or kick the ball to the wrong team. Sam was a good Coach and her Dad was proud!

In each event the Yellow Team did well, but they didn't always win. I had no idea how they were stacking up against the other teams. For example, in each event 7 teams race against each other, then 7 other teams compete in a second heat. I had no idea how the winning times of Race 1 compared the winning times of Race 2. All I knew was the Yellow Team was competitive. 

Then came the event I was most afraid of - the Jump Rope Race. The Yellow Team got off to a big lead. Then came the girl who had so much trouble last year. I was afraid to watch, but I did. This gutsy young lady did not race well, but she had made a huge improvement over the previous year. Sam's team appeared to finish third. At least they weren't last!! I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I felt even better after the last event - the Basketball Dribble relay - which Yellow appeared to win. I might add the girl with the Jump Rope problem did very well at dribbling the Basketball. Go figure. 

So the event was over. I began to hope… Maybe, just maybe… but no one knew who won. That would be determined at the awards ceremony later that day. But first it was time for my own favorite athletic event - the Annual Boot Toss!!

My Chance to Shine - The Boot Toss Tournament!

Have you ever thrown a big wading boot, the kind that fishermen use?  Nah, didn't think so. This is not a skill people normally practice on a regular basis. To help make the parents feel like they can participate too, the PE Staff dreamed up a bizarre event called the "Boot Toss". The Moms have their event at half-time while the kids take a break and the Dads have their event after all the races have been run. Five years earlier when Sam was in her first year at Duchesne, I had thrown a huge Wading Boot for the first time in my life at her Field Day event. I am a big, husky guy, but despite my best effort the stupid boot went maybe ten feet

I was so humiliated. I realize I am much too competitive, but afterwards while everyone else was in the gym, I sneaked back outside and found that boot still laying on the field. With no one looking, I practiced throwing it for 30 minutes. Not only did I discover the proper way to hold it, but I found the least obvious way to throw it was the most effective. Most men throw the boot discus-style or underhand. I found throwing it overhead like a javelin was the secret. Did I ever tell anyone? Are you kidding? Heck, no. Let them find out for themselves!

As a result of my practice, in the second year I finished second. The next year I won a third, but skipped the event in the fourth year. Last year I made a comeback and actually won the event!  

Mrs. Everett, Sam's PE teacher, gets a big kick out of this event. She hams it up and announces to the crowd that she loves to congratulate the winners. With a wink, she indicates to everyone what a big thrill this is for her! Some of the guys respond to her encouragement and give her a big hug. It is definitely harmless fun. Since Mrs. Everett clearly enjoys rewarding the winners, I made it a point to give her a big hug the previous year when I received my ribbon. 

This year however my return to the winner's circle was very much in doubt. There were some amazing tosses in this event by some guys who clearly were much younger and in much better shape than I was. I was disappointed at my underdog status. This year I wanted to win the event for a different reason than before. I had come to really like Mrs. Everett. Just recently I had worked with her on a dance event at the school and discovered that despite an occasional gruff exterior she had a heart of gold. Now that I knew her better, I had been hoping to ham it up with her at the Awards Presentation. I already knew what a big kick she got out it from the year before.

Unfortunately I thought I was out of the running when I saw my boot hit the ground well short of the three leaders, but then the boot bounced in the air. By the time it came down again, the boot had jumped forward another ten feet to put me into Third Place. Although every sports event involving hurling I had ever seen counted where the object hit first and not where it stopped, who cared?  I had medalled again! 

Later when Mrs. Everett called my name to come get my award, I couldn't wait. I knew I possessed one athletic skill that the other men didn't - I knew how to lead a dip!!  After planting a big loud kiss on her cheek, I gave Mrs. Everett a big bear hug. But we weren't finished!  As we embraced I whispered in her ear that I was about to dip her. I reassured her not to be afraid. She whispered back "Okay" so I went for it. 

Using a dance move called the "Death Drop", I dipped her very low by placing her back on my left knee. Most men use their lower back to support the woman, but I knew how to use my leg to support her instead. This trick allowed me to hover over Mrs. Everett Valentino-style for a long twenty seconds as the parents clapped their appreciation. Listening to the roar of the crowd, Mrs. Everett's face broke into a huge grin!  We were so naughty!  Pretty racy stuff for a Catholic girl's school, huh?  Oh, Rhett, you leave me so breathless!   

Then after I pulled her up, I twirled her once more for good effect, then exited Stage Left. Mrs. Everett played her part to the hilt by fanning herself and pretending to be on the verge of fainting.

As I got back into the stands, the parents laughed and high-fived me. That had been too much fun!!  It was the best 3rd place reward I ever got, that's for sure!  But the best part of all happened when a parent pointed out my daughter to me. 

There down on the gym floor, I could see Sam hiding her head in her hands in total embarrassment at what her crazy father had done!!  Much too much fun!  Goodness gracious it must be a sin how much I enjoy embarrassing my poor daughter!  But she always manages to forgive me!  Sam is a great kid.

The Yellow Team Wins Field Day 2001!

Now the Captains of the various teams began coming up to the podium to accept a million or so ribbons from Ms. Everett. Earlier I had caught a glimpse of 10 teachers working non-stop at a huge table filling out team names onto ribbons. As I smiled at the Duchesne Ribbon Factory, I couldn't help but think Santa's elves could never possibly turn out ribbons any faster than these gifted women. 

As I watched the ribbons get distributed by the Captains (including Sam) to their various team members, I felt that I had been given a first-hand insight into a valued secret behind the success of this fine school. I am strongly considering handing out ribbons at the end of every dance class!!

Finally after what seemed to be the equivalent of a Geologic Epoch in ribbon distribution, Mrs. Everett then announced it was one of the closest victories in history. To my astonishment the Yellow Team claimed victory over the reigning champion Brown Team 45-43. Sam and her team went crazy!!  They jumped up and down and hugged each other. 

And as for me, the oft-disappointed Sports Dad, it was the Thrill of Victory. I wiped a couple tears out of my eyes and thought of Laura Wilkinson. 

I smiled as I recalled eating the "Breakfast of Champions" with Sam that morning. Although on one level I knew my thinking was pretty goofy, I enjoyed thinking it was more than a mere coincidence that after five straight years of poignant failure, my daughter had just experienced her first-ever sports accomplishment the same day we had our Wheaties! 

Today Sam had helped her team to defeat 13 other teams. I couldn't help but wonder if a little bit of Laura Wilkinson's Olympic Magic had rubbed off on both of us!

One more thing - I felt a mysterious urge to dive off the bleachers the entire day. You don't suppose...

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