My hometown is abuzz with anticipation over the completion of the Milwaukee Bucks’ new arena. This is the THIRD new arena since I participated in a student design competition for the project back in 1968. A classmate in my high school drafting classes won a four-year scholarship for a fanatic looking futuristic model; the MECCA they built looked much more like my rather boxy entry. I entered a few other design contests back then and even got a few prizes for middle-of-the-pack finishes.
Major companies and organizations sponsored all types of contests back then, and media coverage went where the advertising dollars were. Many were “25 words or less” responses to important questions of the day or requests for advertising jingles. Even grade school children had contests to enter; high school students were not shy about creating model cars or buildings in hopes of improving their chances for a college education.
Today we are reduced to a few television song-and-dance shows and maybe the occasional “flea market flip” on cable. Have we become one big self-esteem camp where people are afraid to compete? For a country that prides itself on self-reliance and open competition, it seems strange that, outside of sports, we are more worried about equal results than excellence.
Did I feel good about my pen-and-ink drawing of a sports car that finished third behind two air-brushed renderings that looked magazine cover-ready? No, but I was happy with the gift certificate to the hobby shop and the knowledge that I had completed the assignment. It was part of a learning experience and hardly felt like a “loss.”
Not every kid is good at sports; the wide variety of contests back in the 1960s gave us non-athletes opportunities to find out what we were “good” at. Perhaps a revived “contest culture” would lure kids away from their devices and back into the real world.