Competing for rewards


We have a new puppy at the farm, and my wife is doing a great job of training the youngster. Evidently, the little dog will do anything my wife asks for nothing more than a peanut-butter flavored treat that’s no bigger than a pencil eraser and a kind word of praise. Seeing the pint-sized puppy take on a 2,000-pound bull for a simple treat reminded me of a young kid.

When I was in the first grade at the one-room school house, the county-wide school district sponsored a field day each year that allowed students from all of the rural schools to compete in various academic and sporting competitions. My teacher entered me in the reading contest, where the individual contestants read aloud from a book as far as they could before encountering a word they could not recognize. Penny was the word I didn’t know, but it was several pages into the book, and it was the farthest any first grader in the county had gotten, save little girl named Louise from the big-city school of Gainesville. We tied, and both received a blue ribbon: a piece of silk-like material that had been fashioned with a pair of pinking shears. From that point forward, I was hooked on ribbons, medals, plaques and framed certificates.

For the next several years, I would enter any kind of competition imaginable, as long as I could foresee some award at the end that would recognize me as a winner.

In the second grade, everyone in my tiny school was promised something called a reading circle certificate if they would read a minimum of 20 books during the school year. I read over 100, thinking I might get five certificates.

In the third grade, the school would have ciphering matches every Friday afternoon, complete with a promise of having the winners’ names written on the top of the blackboard for all the next week. I won my share of those math contests until a smart little girl named Kathy found that she could always beat me when she chose multiplication by 22.

The next few years found me trying to win every 4-H pin and award the organization offered, followed by membership in the FFA, which seemed to offer even more medals, plaques and certificates than 4-H. By the time I reached high school, I had become fully addicted to the endorphins that were released by earning trophies, pictures in the paper, and public recognition of almost every kind. 

My compulsion to win awards continued, well after my college days, with coaching judging teams and public speakers, as an ag teacher and FFA advisor. The success of my students was just as satisfying as winning them myself. Even later, the trophies, ribbons and awards won by my sons showing cattle and participating in 4-H and FFA continued to allow me to live vicariously through the success of my boys.

Luckily, the people at the school field day 65 years ago didn’t reward me with candy treats like my wife provides for the puppy.

Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to and click on ‘Contact Us.’


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