I am no stranger to the Participant Ribbon. One of my earliest encounters was the Honorable Mention award I received in third grade at the Science Fair. The year before I had cruised to a first place blue ribbon with my diorama of dinosaurs I made from clay roaming around Easter grass foliage and sipping from a tin foil pond. It probably helped my cause to sit next to my exhibit with my sad face and crutches, having experienced a pinch or tear or something that generated a pitiful limp. In third grade I essentially recycled that same diorama but moved up a few epochs, with a family of clay Neanderthals and a wooly mammoth and a saber tooth tiger. Same plastic grass. And no crutches. When I came back from perusing the other kids' exhibits, I found my redux diorama adorned with that dull green ribbon. The judges saw me coming, I'm sure.
Many years later, when I was in high school, I was a sophomore taking the last of my quarter-long Physical Education classes: Tennis. I took this class because I understood it would take me outside and keep me from being under the crushing peer pressure of playing on a team, like volleyball. If I was going to miss a ball of whatever size lobbed in my direction, I would suffer that indignity alone. No one should be depending on me.
Which worked out fine until we were instructed to pick a doubles partner. The only alternative from my perspective was to tap my friend Greg for this dubious distinction. So we practiced, after a fashion, batting the ball back and forth to each other and at the fence. And copious breaks that helped us while away the time until the bell rang. And then came the last week of class. We were told there would be a tournament and we should all bring our newly minted skills and competitive spirit. Which I suppose Greg and I did. We ended up playing against a pair of young men who might at one point been saddled with the label "jock," and we were trounced. It might have been the breaks we were taking, or the lack of any particular talent on Greg and my part. On Friday, we were told that we did not have to dress out. There would be an awards ceremony. To my surprise, Greg and I were each awarded a red second place ribbon. Because there were only two teams.
I crossed professional tennis player off my career goals list. I helped my son make a few dioramas, but I always counseled him to change the grass.