almost a winner

Every spring area schools submit announcements of their students’ successes in one competitive activity after another. So many ways for kids to prove themselves academically as well as athletically. I wish I had a chance at a couple of those academic games before I graduated from high school . . . but then again, maybe I don’t.

Athletically, for me the yearly spring track day for elementary kids encapsulates all the games I ever played as a child in New York State. The sun shone brightly over the green lawn stretched between the swing set and the baseball field. Little girls’ dresses and saddle shoes for that one day yielded to more casual pedal pushers and sneakers.

Class by class lined up to run foot races or to hobble across the lawn in a three-legged race. When they called for my class, all the girls lined up to dash from one end of the field to the other. Even though I was a chubby kid, I nonetheless toed the line with the hope that this time, I would get all the way to the end first.

The signal sounded, I plowed ahead only to look up and see the year older, black-haired twins who had failed their way into our class, leading the pack down the field. The thinner, more sprightly girls trailed behind them. All of them left me far, far behind.
Discouraged, I slowed down and huffed reluctantly to the end of the line. It just was not fun to race and always, always lose. Not until college did I discover the joy of moving along rapidly with no thought about winning when a coach taught me how to jog.

So I came in at the bottom of the rung athletically, I could always immerse myself in a really good book and I managed to pass most class room tests with a respectable grade.
But then, in a high school I attended for a couple years, I read with interest a notice of the annual American Legion speech contest for students. The idea intrigued me. I perused the announcement and pulled out a notebook to jot down the deadline and basic rules.
At home, I researched and wrote. Following my eighth-grade teacher’s basic outline for speeches I wrote my statement, three points and a closing. Typing it all up neatly — well sort of, I really am a much better typist with a word processor — I submitted it to the judges.

The whole school gathered in the auditorium and settled down to listen to our speeches. I nervously read my speech and then listened to the outgoing, flamboyant guy who followed me. I am sure that these days while I sit in my cubicle writing, he sells used cars. He placed first and went on to the regional speech contest.

The next year, I decided to try again with the same result. My attempts merited me a token award, but since it was an activity that few entered, I stood out.
How few entered?

Well let’s see I won third-place that first year because two other students entered along with me. The next year because one other person entered, I won second and was excused from school one day to listen to the other competitors at the regional speech contest in another school.

So I sort of, almost, won the speech contest — if you don’t look too closely at the facts.
Just like I almost won a couple times in store promo contests where customers collect game pieces for a prize. I collected, saved and arranged the stickers and tokens each time. And each time, I always came up one piece short of winning any of the prizes. Really, I did almost win. I just needed one more piece — like a lot of other people.

All those contests required a bit of energy and time, but nothing monetary like the state lottery. From my perspective in my loser’s corner, I only listen to conversations about the state lottery. With my personal record for not quite winning, I do not find it difficult to talk myself out of buying a state lottery ticket. Why bother to spend the money to pay the bloated salary for the administrator of the the lottery, the cash prize for the lucky dudes who do win and have only part of it go toward some kid’s college education? I can advance education much more efficiently by simply sending the check to the college of my choice and having all my cash used to further the education of at least one student. From my loser corner that sounds like a win-win situation for both of us.

(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times. E-mail her at