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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

My Brother's Trophy

Guest Post by J. Boyce Gleason

Award-Winning Author

A trophy still worthy of display.

EDITOR'S NOTE: With year-end awards ceremonies in high schools across the country ushering in the end of an exciting 2024 spring scholastic sports season and school year, this week's Daddying blog guest post from J. Boyce Gleason seems only fitting. His brother's words and deeds clearly have been and remain a major influence in his life. The story he shares below is yet another example of how daddying roles are often also played by people other than fathers. A version of this post originally appeared on J's website April 19, 2016. We're sharing it here with his permission Daddy on:



I got my life-long wish during my freshman year in high school. I made the football team.


I can still remember putting on my pads like they were plates of armor and heading out to the dusty field behind our high school. The start of practice always began the same way: the varsity and junior varsity ran through a defined set of calisthenics. Set up in eight rows of ten, we barked out the count for each exercise, mimicking the movements of senior Captain Mike O’Hagan.

 

If Mike put his hands to his helmet and yelled, “Hunh,” we put our hands on our helmets and yelled, “Hunh!” When he clapped his hands and slapped his thigh pads to a syncopated beat, so did we. To adolescent boys, the percussive rhythm of this routine resonated with astounding power. We were part of something bigger and far cooler than ourselves. It was awesome.


That year, my brother Jim was a senior and he had the distinction of being the most valuable player on the team. I know this because he has a trophy to prove it.


We didn’t receive too many trophies back in those days. I think I had one from a third-place finish in a basketball tournament from my sixth-grade youth league. It was about an inch tall and little more than a tiny basketball on a tree stump. It was the only recognition I’d ever received for sports throughout my childhood.


Jim’s trophy, by comparison, was 24 inches tall, a golden pilaster rising from a marble base. On its top, it featured a football player in mid-throw. It was awarded in front of the entire high school community on senior recognition day during the last week of school. Jim won it for playing fullback.


He had a great year.  In a huge upset, we beat our rival Pleasantville, who hadn’t lost in nearly three years, to clinch the league title. The day after the game, there was a front-page picture of Jim in the Citizen Register barreling through the Pleasantville defensive line to score the winning touchdown.


To my 13-year-old mind, my brother had set a high bar for a perfect season: Play fullback, beat Pleasantville, lead the league, and win the trophy.


I planned to achieve all of them.

We didn’t receive too many trophies back in those days. I think I had one from a third-place finish in a basketball tournament from my sixth-grade youth league. It was about an inch tall and little more than a tiny basketball on a tree stump...Jim’s trophy, by comparison, was 24 inches tall, a golden pilaster rising from a marble base. On its top, it featured a football player in mid-throw. It was awarded in front of the entire high school community on senior recognition day during the last week of school.

For the next two and a half years, I dedicated myself to becoming the best football player in the school. I lifted weights, ran extra sprints after every practice, learned the playbook by heart, and ate voraciously to gain weight.


Unfortunately, my senior year left a lot to be desired.


I didn’t play fullback. We didn’t win the league. We didn’t even have a winning season. We lost to Pleasantville. And while there were many reasons why none of these things happened the way I’d planned, the hard truth always remained. I had failed. And if there was one thing I hated most in life, it was failure.


There was only one chance left for redemption: the trophy for the most valuable player. Unfortunately, I had to wait until the last week of school to find out if I’d won it.


Months rolled by. Winter became spring. College acceptance letters arrived. Our futures began to stretch out in front of us. The last week of school brought all the usual pomp and circumstance with it, including senior recognition day. I waited in the stands as the coaches went through the superlatives for each sport. The last sport recognized was always football and Coach Hoffman stood to award the prize. In his hand was the 24-inch golden trophy that my brother had won. I held my breath.


“This player is an exemplary young man,” Coach Hoffman began, but I couldn’t hear the rest because the sound of my heartbeat drowned out the preamble to the winner’s name. He stopped to give the award the appropriate drama it deserved.


“This year’s most valuable player award goes to…Bobby Kennedy.”


I stood to applaud with all my classmates. Bobby was one of my best friends. I was happy for him, but like everything else I’d planned for that year, I’d failed. I had to recognize that I just didn’t deserve it.


The final trophy of the day was the American Legion Sportsmanship Award. As Coach Hoffman began his soliloquy for it, a sense of dread stole into my mind. Before he even announced my name, I knew it was my consolation prize. I groaned.


Sportsmanship. The nice guy. The guy who congratulates the winner. I couldn’t stop thinking of Vince Lombardi saying, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

 

I was furious. With cheeks burning, I strode to the podium to accept the trophy. Sportsman that I was, I shook Coach Hoffman’s hand and smiled and waved to acknowledge the audience applause. But, in my heart, I was dejected. I had failed four for four. I went home, put the trophy in a box and set my mind on college.


Many years later, I was reminiscing with my older brother Jim about his senior year in high school.


“You know what I really regret?” Jim said.


I shook my head. I couldn’t think of a thing he might regret.


“I didn’t win the Sportsmanship Award my senior year.”


“But you were Most Valuable Player.”


“Yeah, but the Legion trophy was always the big prize. That’s why it’s awarded last. Mike O’Hagan won it my senior year. I was really disappointed by that.”


I was too stunned to speak. I had valued the wrong prize. It took some time for my adult brain to convince my adolescent brain to step aside so I could look at that event from a different perspective.


My adult brain already knew that winning isn’t the only thing. I’ll grant you that success has its merits (it really does), but when I think back on my career, how we performed was just as important. Some of my best work was during my worst failures.


I always took pride in giving a good day’s work for a good day’s pay and tried to align myself with people who brought the same enthusiasm to their jobs. I treated people with respect, regardless of their job title or importance to me. I valued trust, competency, and ethical behavior and was rewarded in kind by those who held similar standards.


I’ve won many accolades and awards throughout my professional career, but only one trophy sits by my desk these days. It’s from American Legion Post 1054, a golden pilaster rising 24 inches up from a marble base. And on its top stands not an athlete but a human being.



 

J. Boyce Gleason is a Dad to three sons, one daughter-in-law, and granddad to a beautiful granddaughter. After a 25-year, award-winning career in crisis management and public affairs, Gleason began writing historical fiction to satisfy his passion for storytelling. His first novel Anvil of God: Book One of the Carolingian Chronicles received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, was named Historical Fiction Book of the Year by the Independent Publishers Awards and Mainstream/Literary e-Book of the Year by Writers Digest Magazine. He is currently writing his second novel about Ben Franklin’s ill-spent youth called Sin of Omission. With an AB in history from Dartmouth College, Gleason brings a strong understanding of the events that shaped history. He says he writes historical fiction to discover “why.” He is married and lives in Virginia.


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