Question: Harvard or Hogwarts?

By JASON MAYFIELD / Guest Columnist

The choice above kept me longer than usual at my closet recently as I tried to find just the right T-shirt to inspire my Columbiana Middle School scholar’s bowl team to greatness. I went with Hogwarts, knowing that every  tournament includes at least one Harry Potter question, but my smart-geek look was not enough to help my team past a mediocre finish.

How mediocre were we? For the second straight tournament, we were referred to by the name of “Columbia.”

While I was never knew if the judges thought we were representing the drug lord neighbors in the country way south of us or the Ivy League college to the north, I did find it clear that judges knew little and apparently cared less about Columbiana.

Of course, the easiest way to address this name slight would have been to make a memorable win. Despite our hours of practice and work over four months, there were moments when we looked embarrassingly out of place against schools with names that caused my students to instinctively cringe (“Ooh, we don’t want to play them. They’re rich. And smart.”)

I’ve tried to stress to my students that competing, not winning, is the most important thing. I make the analogy of my running to them, that when I race a marathon, I’m not trying to defeat the Kenyan who will win the competition. For me, a win is simply that I finished and did the best I could.

As a coach, I desperately want my team’s best to equal more wins and recognition. There’s a part of me that longs for upsets at these tournaments. However, it’s just a scholar’s bowl competition, and even the greatest upset wouldn’t merit front page news at any newspaper, even a local one.

“This is way better than any award,” one of my scholars said as she ate pizza with her teammates after the tournament. She had a point, and no perceived slight I could imagine could take away from it. Thank you Adriane, Owen, Justus, Kyle, Margeaux, Sarah, and Zac. You seven formed a team I will never forget.

Jason Mayfield is a gifted insructor at Columbiana Middle School.