Toss The Trophies

Posted by: LuAnnin Nebraska-isms

NebraskaismsThe first time I participated in the Clay County Spelling Bee, I was in the fourth grade. I studied Eaton’s True Blue Speller every day for months prior to the contest and Mom drilled lists of words with me each night before I went to sleep.

The day of the contest, I felt confident about my chances of advancing to the finals. After a couple rounds, our school’s sixth grade teacher entered the room and made a list of contestant numbers on the chalkboard, denoting who had too many misspellings and was out of the competition. One by one my fellow comrades in spelling would pick up their pencils and exit the room. I hoped my number would not show up on the board anytime soon.

As the number of students dwindled, I attempted to focus on the spelling words and not on the remaining competitors. Ten dropped to eight and finally, only six students were left.

That is when my number showed up on the board, written in Mr. Aufdenkamp’s distinctive handwriting.

I was crushed. Hadn’t I studied enough? I gathered the pile of yellow number two pencils and exited the room empty handed, except for the Ticonderoga No. 2s.

No participation ribbon. No trophy. Just a burning desire to do better, which I did the next four years.

That blast from my past came to mind this weekend while reading an article about Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker James Harrison and his take on trophies earned by his sons at a football camp sponsored by former Steeler Charlie Batch.

On his Instagram account, Harrison shared a photo of two trophies, each with an inscribed nameplate reading “Best of the Batch Next Level Athletics Student-Athlete Award.”

In the caption Harrison wrote, “I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies.”

The Steeler went on to commend his sons for their efforts and everything they do, nothing that he will encourage them every day, but the trophies will be given back until they earn a trophy.

Clap. Clap. Clap. Standing ovation.

I have never believed in an giving an award just for the sake of giving an award. I blame it on my years as a teacher and coach, but handing out a ribbon just for being present sends a wrong message and rewards mediocrity and in some instances, apathy.

No, I favor earning a ribbon, medal or trophy by actually earning it, whether it be at a spelling bee, the county fair or a volleyball tournament.

Sure, participation ribbons may stroke a kid’s ego when handed to him or her, but in the long run, it sets a precedent for minimal expectations. That’s a bad example and mindset. It encourages a sickening sense of entitlement, which seems to run rampant.

Harrison went on to write, “Sometimes your best is not enough. That should drive you to want to do better … not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u[sic] up and keep you happy.”

Spoken like a true winner, Mr. Harrison.

Kids and Cursing

Posted by: LuAnnin Nebraska-isms


You heard me. I admit that expletives sometimes fly from my lips, filling space with harsh-sounding tones that, in the long run, do not add intelligence to conversation. Even if uttered after slicing through a finger while cutting onions or blared when InDesign freezes my MacBook for the fifth time in 90 minutes.

I distinctly remember the first time a curse word rhyming with luck came out of my mouth. As a college freshman who knew everything, I did not appreciate Mom’s advice about a person of male persuasion. I dropped the bomb.

Mom’s knee-jerk reaction: a swift slap across the face, followed by a reminder that good girls don’t cuss.

Her words stung more than the slap, but was she correct? Should inappropriate interjections be avoided? Tough call. It sure feels good to let that raw emotion surface.

That incident came to mind Friday while Courtney and the grandkids accompanied me to the county fair. While standing in front of a vendor booth, a lady asked Jorden if he knew Jesus.

“That’s a bad word,” the five-year-old proclaimed, wide-eyed innocence expressing his concern that this stranger used a form of blasphemy.

She handed him a Bible and shook her head.

Courtney explained we are teaching him not to take His name in vain, that he knows who Jesus is, offers prayers nightly. The woman wasn’t convinced.

The shock and awe of profanity has been around for centuries and as society has advanced, so has the level of offensiveness.

For instance, the British term “bloody” wasn’t quite a curse word when it became commonplace during the Renaissance. Through time and context – written and spoken – “bloody” evolved into an offensive word. Same with the term, “bugger.” If you watch any British dramas or read much Brit Lit, fiction and film swarm with those words.

So what’s up with the power of taboo words and phrases? For one, cussing, in all its tarnished splendor, solidifies that the topic being discussed is of importance.

It is as relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago.

In July, reporters at NPR faced a conundrum of when to bleep unsavory words during on-air segments and podcasts. How do you determine what words should or should not be aired? If you plan to bleep out only part of a word, which part do you edit so the listener gets the full effect?

It’s a fine line to travel, especially in the news business. Viewers/listeners rely on context to derive meaning, so can cussing be completely obliterated? Print journalists following AP style are advised against using obscenities, unless there is a compelling reason or if it is part of a quote.

By no means am I advocating the use of profanity. As I age, I find myself less impressed with those who choose to utilize the form of speech on a regular basis.

Still, when that knife slips and slits through my skin, blood pooling on my fingertip, a blue streak a mile long might be heard.

Keep Nebraska Beautiful

Posted by: LuAnnin Nebraska-isms

NebraskaismsOn a whirlwind trip to Iowa to meet our newest grandson two weekends ago, Scott and I noticed an unwelcome trend while we traveled.

A lot of litter dots our state’s highways.

We were barely out of Clearwater, curving across the Elkhorn River, when a bag of garbage from a fast food restaurant – one that is located approximately 40 miles in either direction – lay splattered in the middle of the road.

Turning north to the junction with Highway 20, we spotted a beer box and several cans strewn across the road.

The line of litter did not end. Empty juice and pop bottles bordered the roadway, plastic bags hung in fence lines, pieces of junk paper edged the space between mowed shoulder and tall grass.


Maybe I am a product of my childhood, rooted in everything flower power and groovy, but the premise of Keep America Beautiful stuck with me. And why wouldn’t it? Didn’t I grow up in the generation that witnessed Iron Eyes Cody traveling a river in a canoe only to find the shoreline riddled with plastic, and in the next frame, watched someone toss a sack of garbage out of a car scooting down the freeway, only to watch it land at his feet? Cue camera closeup and a single tear streaming down Cody’s face, followed by that distinct voiceover: People start pollution. People can stop it.

That public service announcement made its debut on Earth Day, 1971, a visual reminder of our personal responsibility to protect our country’s environment. I remember that day; I was a Junior Girl Scout and our troop spent the day picking up trash and assisting residents rid rubbish from our community. Pickup beds were loaded with debris and we unloaded the mess at the town’s dump.

I am certain that lesson stuck. When I drive somewhere and have a glass of tea, I do not toss the empty cup out of the window. Not even a gum wrapper gets flicked out of the car. Even when I was teaching and would snack on a banana on my 38-mile drive to school, I would not throw the peel along the roadside, even though it is biodegradable.

Nebraska Revised Statute 28-523 defines litter and what constitutes the offense of littering. “Any person who deposits, throws, discards or other disposes of any litter on any public or private property or in any waters commits the offense of littering.”

In Nebraska, littering is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months imprisonment, $500 fine or both. A second conviction may result in up to six months in prions, $1,000 fine or both. A subsequent conviction may result in up to one year in jail, $1,000 fine or both.

Why litter? Has society become so lazy that it is easier to throw a Big Mac box and super-sized pop cup out the window instead of disposing of it in a trash receptacle once the vehicle stops?

If so, cue the tear to fall down my cheek.

Dear Chuck

Posted by: LuAnnin Nebraska-isms

NebraskaismsOh, Chuck. I am glad to see you again. It has been a long time since you graced me with your presence.

Seriously, we started going steady when I was what, a sixth grader? I first saw you in the shoe section in the basement of the Brandeis store in downtown Lincoln. It was a Saturday, game day in the heart of Husker nation, and there you were, flashing your school spirit in all its red and white glory.

That’s when I knew we belonged together.

I asked my parents if I could bring you home, but they refused to get involved. No, if I planned on making you a part of my life, I would have to find a way without their assistance so I devised a plan to make you mine.

The next weekend, I returned to the place we first met, happy to find you were still available. I brought my stash of babysitting money I had been saving and forked over – if my memory has not faded – an Andrew Jackson and change.

Life with you was good. We survived playground battles, neighborhood hide ’n seek games and daily life.

By seventh grade, you started to break down and I knew I would need to find a replacement. When your parental unit, Converse, came out with an upgraded version, the one-star, I brought home three versions of you: red, white and black. Yes, it meant I spent a lot of time babysitting so I could own you, but Chuck, you were worth it.

Fall faded into winter which blurred into spring and hot weather. Twice. Your white cloth faded to a dingy grey, the red shoes lost a bit of luster and the black pair spent a lot of time in the back of my closet.

By the time I hit high school, my taste in shoes changed. Sure, my parents tried to sway my affection by presenting me with a new version of you – the pro leather Chucks – and even though you were my favorite color, I preferred something dressier.

You sat in my closet, out of sight, out of mind, for years. After finishing college, mom demanded she be allowed to clear the clutter and you fell victim to her cleaning spree.

I will admit: I had not thought about you, Chuck, until a little over a year ago when I saw you on the clearance rack at Target. Maybe I was going through a midlife crisis, but I felt this longing to feel young again, or at least have a comfortable pair of what had once been my favorite shoes, so you came home with me once again.

And now, there’s a new, updated you, released by your new parental unit, Nike. After 98 years, you still have that iconic patch, but inside, you have been upgraded for comfort for my tired and stress-fractured feet.

Oh Chuck, I am fighting the urge to rush out, wrap my arms around you, my trusted friend, and carry you home; fighting the urge to feel like an All-Star, again.

Losing Touch

Posted by: LuAnnin Nebraska-isms

NebraskaismsA thousand various thoughts swirl in my head today, shoving and pushing for attention, each vying for center stage and top priority.

One clear caveat shines through: life is precious so make the most of it.

I awoke to a message from my childhood next door neighbor, informing me that one of our classmates died. He’s the second of our 24-member class to leave this earthly life.

It gives me pause, makes me think about relationships and life, love and death, and how time alters or strengthens or smothers friendships.

Yes, I’m sad that Richard died. It’s like the closing of a chapter of my life. We grew up a handful of blocks from each other. His younger sibling and my sister were in the same class, his mom was in charge of the school cafeteria. We were from the same ‘hood and our ‘rents kept watchful eyes on us.

We were part of the neighborhood gang that gathered at dusk to play kick the can along the oak-lined street where my family lived. There were birthday parties with games like pin the tail on the donkey and freeze tag that eventually morphed into those awkward junior high get-togethers where spin the bottle and truth or dare were the games of choice, where the primary challenge was avoiding the dare and escaping embarrassment. There were bus trips and high school dances, play practices and athletic events, where for the most part, we became one big family.

Then, graduation day arrived and we went our separate ways. Since then, I’d seen Richard twice. The first time was four years after our graduation, at the funeral of my sister’s fiancé, a utility lineman who died at work, a tragic loss at age 21. The second time was 27 years later, in 2010, at our high school’s final alumni gathering, before the school merged with a larger district down the road.

The truth is, to borrow from the movie, The Big Chill, “a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don’t know anything about me. It was easy back then.”

The truth is that I don’t know much about the last 35 years of his life, except that he had married, divorced and remarried; he’d battled a few health problems the last couple of years but seemed to be on the mend.

Otherwise, I know relatively little about Richard’s life, his hopes and dreams, constant worries, most dreaded fear. Undoubtedly, all those elements had changed since we proclaimed our idealistic goals and walked away from the comfort of our homes and life being easy.

The truth is, the chapter that I thought closed yesterday actually closed more than 30 years ago, when a close-knit group of 24 gained independence and individually set out to conquer the world.

That makes me sad, too.

Rest in peace, my friend.