The Boy has three sisters who have a lot of trophies.Since we joined the soccer rec league eight years ago, they’ve been handing out participation trophies to every kid each season–spring and fall–clear up until last year, the year that The Boy could finally play.That fall, they decided to hand out medallions.After staring at the dozens of shiny trophies gracing the shelves of his sisters’ rooms, receiving a medallion attached to a ribbon was a bit of a let-down. We pointed out that the top Olympians all get them, that it was an athletic honor, isn’t this gorgeous, wow, a gold medallion, let’s hang this up in a prominent place in your room, look at it gleam…Our encouragement fell on deaf ears. He was happy enough, because he’s a pretty happy boy, but the medallion just wasn’t a trophy. We couldn’t change that.Last night was the AWANA Grand Prix. AWANA is kind of a Scout-inspired program that emphasizes Bible memorization as the primary activity. They schedule games and special events throughout the year to add some energy and excitement to the club.Every year about this time, the AWANA Grand Prix rolls around–a pine car derby. Our first year, we didn’t know anything about it. We bought the kits–just a block of wood and some wheels on axles–and drove home wondering what on earth we would do. We’d never seen a pine derby race. We’d never designed or built a car. The kids were all excited as The Belgian Wonder revved up his power saw to try to form something car-shaped out of a rectangle of pine. We let them paint the cars in pale pastels and put stickers all over them. They were simple.When we arrived, we realized how inexperienced we were. People came with extravagant designs including clever detailing or amusing shapes. We saw bathtubs and tanks and a few very realistic race cars designed by our own friends who worked as engineers with GM–an unfair advantage. They did win, by the way, applying their intimate understanding of physics, friction, weights, and I don’t know what all, because I don’t understand physics.We celebrated our friend’s win that year, but our ride home in the van was very quiet. Tears dropped onto the cloth seats that night. It’s hard not to win. After two or three years of defeat, one daughter decided it was too difficult to lose. She opted not to participate and just cheer on her siblings.Although our kids never won, each year The Belgian Wonder’s pine derby design abilities improved. He grew more knowledgeable and confident, taking mental notes on how people attached weights to the cars and what designs performed the best.Last year, our middle daughter actually won! She won with a black VW Beetle design. I was flabbergasted. I’d already prepared them all with the thought that–as usual–they probably won’t win, so just have fun watching the races. But she won. Amazing. And she brought home a trophy.That brings us up to last night. We misunderstood the date of the race–we thought it was next week. Thankfully, someone sent out a reminder e-mail two days ago, so The Belgian Wonder whipped together a car for The Boy.For years I’ve been urging the kids to consider what I believe to be one of the simplest and cutest designs possible: a pencil. Well, my second-best idea is to not carve it at all, but just paint it a bright color, glue a ribbon and bow around the rectangle, and make it look like a gift all wrapped up for a birthday party. You could put a cute tag on it–no sawing or carving required. No one’s bit on the gift idea.But I was able to talk The Boy into the pencil. “You’re probably not going to win the speed contest,” I said–“But I might!” he interjected. “You might, but there will be a lot of cars, and you probably won’t. So why not make a cute car like this pencil?” I suggested. “They give out an award for the Most Creative Design and maybe the pencil will win that.” Maybe, but probably not. The Boy agreed to the pencil.The Belgian Wonder worked late Tuesday night gluing the wheels in and putting the finishing touches on. I drove to a craft store to buy weights. At AWANA, The Belgian Wonder stood beside several other dads who were slapping on weights to get as close as possible to the limit. He had to attach a long, unattractive weight on top of the cute yellow paint. I thought this lowered the chances of the pencil winning Most Creative Design, but I couldn’t argue. After all, The Belgian Wonder’s weighted car design won last year. He tasted victory and wanted it again. The weights were key.Three large trophies sat on the table for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.The heats began, and cars that lost were handed back to their owners with a participation ribbon. Faces were drooping. Tears were falling. Why do they do this? I kept thinking, watching those heartbroken kids shuffle away with the car they’d spent hours painting–their loser car. Why do they set it up so that only three win and everybody else goes home sad?The pencil won the first heat. The Boy was delighted. “I won!””It’s great that your car won just the first heat,” The Belgian Wonder explained, “but now it has to race three more times against other cars. You haven’t won the whole thing.”The Grand Prix dragged on and on (not unlike this post), until finally it was down to the last two. The pencil was still in! He was racing against a normal-looking car made by a much older kid. They raced twice, switching the tracks. The pencil lost on the right track, but won on the left. They flipped a coin to determine who would choose the track, and let The Boy call it. He didn’t know what that meant, so several minutes were lost trying to explain “heads” and “tails.” He finally said, “Tails!” It was heads. The older boy picked the faster track, and his normal-looking car won.The pencil got 2nd place. The Boy squealed! He shrieked! You’d have thought he won the whole thing. “I got second! I got second!” He exclaimed. They invited him up, and he ran to the table. They congratulated him, shook his hand, held out the trophy, which he embraced with dreamy eyes. He hugged it. He held it out and gazed at it, then hugged it again. “My trophy!” he exclaimed, “My very first trophy!” He sighed.The Boy went home with his very own trophy! His first-ever, gleaming gold trophy with a car on top!But wait, there’s more. They announced the Most Creative Design winner: The Pencil!The pencil won! He was almost shaking from the excitement, running up to the table again to receive that award–a gift certificate to a hobby store. “I won something else!” he told us. He wasn’t even sure what happened.”You won Most Creative Design. They liked your pencil!”He handed me the gift certificate and hugged his trophy again. “My trophy,” he murmured.Before leaving that night, the kids had to gather with their peers one last time in another room. The Boy toted his trophy up the stairs with pride. A little girl sat on a leader’s lap, sobbing. She wanted a trophy. Her car lost. The Boy leaned over and said, “If you want to come over to my house sometime, I’ll probably let you touch it.”He meant well.The girl’s face distorted and her sobs got louder until she buried her face in the leader’s vest. Another leader turned to The Belgian Wonder and me and said, “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. Right here….but that’s life, isn’t it?”Yes, I thought, but does it have to be AWANA, too?I was proud and so happy for The Boy, but I remember the way I felt when my daughter shuffled to the van years ago with her pine car shoved deep into her AWANA bag, hoping to forget her loss.”Um, maybe I could keep your trophy safe,” I suggested to The Boy. He didn’t want to let go of it. I got up and whispered in his ear, “I think it’s hard for the little girl next to you to even look at your beautiful trophy, because she didn’t get one. Let me hold it where she can’t see it, and then you can carry it all the way home.”He reluctantly handed it over. I kept it safe, winked a few times, gave him a thumbs up. He gave me a thumbs up and smiled.On the drive home, The Belgian Wonder told me he was invited to a dinner that night with his boss and several VPs.”What? You came to AWANA instead of dining with some executives? What were you thinking?””I couldn’t miss this!” he protested. He glanced behind him at the little boy clutching his trophy. He whispered, “He just got his very first trophy, Ann. I wouldn’t miss that for anything.”I looked at my sleepy little boy in a state of bliss. I looked at The Belgian Wonder grinning as he drove.I knew that the moods filling most other vans driving home that night from AWANA were very different from ours, and that made me a little sad.But I know one thing: The Belgian Wonder may not get a promotion this year, but he sure has his priorities straight.