Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Trophy Inflation-June 13, 2005

I was walking through the toy section at Target a few days ago and noticed that a Hot Wheels car still costs about $1.25. It’s amazing to me, because 25 or 30 years ago, it’s the same price I paid for them when that was my weekly allowance, balled up in my sweaty paw walking through Kmart to get a tiny version the Smokey and the Bandit car. Things have changed some, of course. Now the car is made of mostly plastic and built by slave children in communist China, whereas back then it was built from battleship scrap by the President of the United States. Still, no real price increase in all those years means kids these days can buy a lot more useless trash with their weekly allowances. Ah, progress.

Despite the lack of inflation in mini cars, I have noticed dramatic inflation in another category popular with young kids: trophies.

It’s not that they’re more expensive. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that in the past, you’d pay $10 and wait 2 weeks for a trophy you could get for $2 at the drive through window today. No, it’s not the price that’s inflated; it’s the size and number of the trophies out there. Whole bedrooms have disappeared in a jungle of silver-painted basketball players, golden baseball batters and bronze ballerinas. I heard about a family that did an add-on just to have a place to keep all the grade school bling-bling their younguns have collected.

It wasn’t always this way. Trophies were the golden (or at least gold-painted) dream of all Little Leaguers but only the elite actually ever managed to get one: All-stars, league champions, Most Likely to Get to the Majors and Then Be Forced to Testify Before Congress. Things like that. We’d have killed for a trophy, which is probably why so many of us got involved in the Junior Killing League. The top performer got a trophy.

But no more. Trophies are handed out to every kid on every team regardless of how feeble his or her efforts might have been. A kid could chase butterflies around the outfield nine innings a game and cry every time the ball came near him at the bat, and he’d still go home a winner, trophy-wise.

Our own Little League season came to an end the other day, and as we left (with my son’s trophy, of course), we walked by a picnic table that was covered with trophies the size of oompa-loompas. Surely, these kids weren’t part of our League. Awards like this must be the result of some kind of extraordinary heroism. Perhaps these kids stood on each other’s shoulders and rescued the King of Belgium from the top floor of a burning building. OR maybe they foiled a Yu-Gi-Oh-based terrorist attack.

No. They were the champions of their 4-team league. I don’t mean to minimize the achievement, but wouldn’t a memento smaller than a coat rack be more appropriate to the occasion? After all, every four-team youth sports league has that one team who never wins, so you’re down to three.

At that rate, the average sports playing kid is going to accumulate enough trophies by middle school to be able to melt them down into a small golden (painted plastic) calf, housed inside a miniature fake marble temple. From there, it’s only a short step to animal sacrifice, witchcraft and possibly even Celine Dion music. There should be an After School Special about this.

So do you suppose my problem with Trophy Inflation stems from envy? Would I feel better if there was a shipping crate full of man-sized statuettes with my name on them in my mom’s attic, instead of just a couple little trophies and a stack of forgotten and despised “Participation Certificates”?

It’s possible, but I doubt it. I once won a basketball championship (of a four-team league) with a last minute heroic shot of my own. If we hadn’t been 11 and really not very good at basketball, Ron Howard could have made a movie about it. When they gave us our trophies (pitiful by comparison to today’s), it felt like we’d come through the fires of hell and earned eternal glory. We treated those trophies like treasure covered in magic chocolate.

For about a day. Then we had to find a place to put it on top of the chest of drawers.

For my son, the thrill of his ‘participation trophy’ lasted about half way back to the house. I kept having to tell him not to let the trophy slip out of his hands, because he would forget he was carrying it. And at age 7, he’s pretty much maxed out the top of his chest of drawers. When he finally got this one home, we knew we needed a solution to our trophy problem, especially with his younger sister being league age next year.

So we decided to institute a recycling program in our house. From now on, we’ll pool all the trophies and put them in a box on the kitchen counter. Through the course of the day, anytime anyone does anything noteworthy, that person will immediately receive a trophy. When they get over the thrill of winning it, they can put it straight back in the box. From there, the trophy will get awarded again to someone who, for example, reminds Papa to take his coffee off the top of the car before pulling out of the driveway. That way, there’s the thrill of winning a trophy and the convenience of not having to worry about where to put it.

It’s a perfect system, and I think I deserve an award for coming up with it.

Hey, that’s exactly what the box is for!


  • At June 17, 2005 at 8:32 AM, Blogger Damian G. said…

    Totally agree.
    In an effort to raise kids' "self-esteem," we are guvung them completely undeserved prizes for far too little of achievements.
    But we can blame the liberal media, right?

  • At June 17, 2005 at 8:43 AM, Blogger Jim McCarthy said…

    Uh, I'm not sure about that.

    Personally, I'm holding 80's "supergroup" Asia responsible. It's not fair of me, but somebody's got to take the fall.


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