How you play the game

Ahh…the thrill of competition. The excitement of working as a team or individually to try and come out on top. Ryan does not care at all about anything competitive, but Jordan is a lot like me and loves to win. So while winning is certainly fun, I’ve made a point of teaching my boys over the years the importance of doing your best, playing fairly, and most importantly, demonstrating good sportsmanship. I always tell them be a gracious winner or loser – congratulate the other person or team who beats you and say something complimentary to those whom you beat. I’ve told them the story many times about my sister who at age four, after the Phillies lost the World Series, asked why everyone was walking around looking sad. My mom told her the Phillies had just lost; she thought about it for a few seconds and said sagely, “If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose.”

Last week, I had the opportunity to put this into practice from both perspectives. On Tuesday, Ryan participated for the third year in a row in the Montgomery County Special Olympics. I love this event. It’s a chance for kids who do not normally excel athletically to shine. They are cheered on by teachers, parents and volunteer students from their schools. Ryan’s biggest motivation for doing this was my promise to take him home after his events (rather than having to go back to school) if he tried his absolute best – by running as fast and throwing the ball as hard as he could. I may have also put a bug in his ear to try to run faster than the boy who beat him in every event last year. (Bad Mommy moment? :)) This is a boy from another school whose parents are acquaintances, and when I congratulated them on their son’s ribbons last year, they just nodded and did not say anything back to me about Ryan. 

Ryan’s first event was the 200 meter run. I stood near the finish line with my camera ready and saw Ryan running around the bend, neck and neck with that boy, with another student ahead of them. “Go Ryan! Keep running, you got this!” I yelled. He heard me and pulled ahead of the boy, ending the race in 2nd place and earning a red ribbon. Next was the softball throw, which was all the way down on a field parents could not enter. We were resigned to squint at the sea of students and try to figure out which one was ours. When Ryan’s group finally emerged, I saw he was wearing a first place blue ribbon! I’ve never seen him pick up a softball, let along throw one. The other boy walked out sporting a third place ribbon. The final race was the 50 meter dash. Ryan was a few seconds too late in starting after the whistle blew and ended with a respectable third place win.

What a day!  I was amazed and proud at not only how hard Ryan tried but at the results of his hard work, and told him that many times. Ryan himself did not seem overly excited by his ribbons but was happy to have the afternoon off.  When Ryan and I were walking out, I tried to catch the boy’s parents’ eyes to congratulate them, but they didn’t look at me. I shook my head and could not help but gloat a little bit on the inside.

From athletic events to intellectual ones, Dan, Jordan and I drove to Alexandria, VA Thurs night to cheer on Jordan and the rest of his 8th grade team in the National Quiz Bowl competition. They are a smart group of kids who were honest in saying they did not spend any time practicing for this – they had qualified in the pre-test and were there for the experience. 

Jordan’s team was in good spirits after losing round one, as they still earned a lot of points and felt they were just getting warmed up. They won round two and lost round three. Round four was do or die. Unfortunately, they lost. This was the only time where Jordan got upset. He was deflated and tired of losing, and now they did not have a shot at making it to finals.

“You tried really hard. You gave it your all,” I said, trying to cheer him up.

“No we didn’t,” he snapped. “I could have done better.”

“If you win, you win, if you lose, you lose,” I joked.

Jordan gave me a look. “Not helpful.” He went to the room to cool off for a little while.

When he returned, Jordan said they were considering just throwing the last match and giving silly responses to the questions.

“Don’t,” I told him. “Make the other teams work to get to the finals. Go out with a bang.” 

And so the team decided to do just that. They lost round five and began the final round ready to give their competitors – an undefeated team – a run for their money. However, the other team buzzed and answered the first two questions correctly before the moderator had even finished asking them. Jordan and his friends exchanged glances, shaking their heads and feeling like they were about to get creamed. But then a boy on the other team admitted, “We had these questions already in another round.”  

The room was silent for a few seconds until Jordan said, “Thank G-d. I feel a lot better now!” Everyone – parents and kids – burst into laughter.  During the next 30 minutes, the moderator tried to find a set of questions neither team had answered in prior rounds; by the time the match began again, the kids from both schools were laughing and chatting with each other.

It was the most exciting of all the matches. Jordan swept the Roman numerals category, earning him a round of applause, and answered some tough geography and history questions. His other teammates made an impressive showing in art history, music and science/medicine.  It was close the entire time with the parents and teachers on the edge of our seats. In the end, Jordan’s team lost by one question. But they were all smiling as they congratulated their competitors. They knew they had done their best and made one of the top teams in the country sweat, at least for a little while.

Over dinner with a few of the other families later, the adults got drinks and clinked glasses, toasting to a fun weekend and to new friends. The kids joked about their 1-5 record. We laughed about some of the questions and answers given in the matches and the crazy categories our kids selected when they had the opportunity to choose. (For example, we couldn’t believe when there were three Chinese American boys and Jordan on the team in one of the rounds, they picked The Old Testament instead of Chinese Inventions. Per Jordan “For the record, I did not vote for the Old Testament, but if the majority want to answer questions about my book, I’m not going to stop them!” That got a lot of laughs).

Spirits were high all night. Sometimes the best memories are made when you lose. Especially when you play the game like a winner.