Commentary: Still proud of my Shelton PTA Contest-winning childhood poem

In the eighth grade, I became a minor celebrity in Shelton after winning first place in the PTA Poetry Contest for my original work, “The Flight of the Falcon,” which I suspect may have been the only entry.

Years later, I can still recite that poem with its iambic pentameter verse and its A-B-C-B rhyme pattern, or maybe it was A-B-A-B, or could it have been A-A-A-Z?

While my classmates had their hearts set on careers in the NBA, the CIA, the NFL and the ACLU, I was on my way to becoming a beatnik poet in the tradition of Alan Ginsberg and Maynard G. Krebs.

My father was convinced I’d won a family trip to Disneyland, but all I got was a blue ribbon left over from the town dog show. On the line where my name was written, the word “Breed” had been crossed out, and right then, I realized someday I’d compete at the Westminster Kennel Club.

Few school awards for me

That was the first of many awards for me. Actually, it might have been the first of three awards — well, maybe two. I was later cited as the most conscientious hall monitor and got a certificate for perfect attendance until I came down with a stomach virus.

I always savored the moment of victory when I could walk up to the podium, shake the principal’s hand and stumble off the stage while my friends jeered. Nothing is sweeter than success, regardless of how undeserved.

Principal cancels Honors Night

The principal of Ipswich Middle School in Massachusetts has a different view. He recently called off the Honors Night ceremony because he thought it would be harmful to kids who tried hard but didn’t get good grades.

I can understand his thinking. They should also cancel the Grammys and the Oscars, along with the MTV Video Music Awards, so entertainers who don’t get an award won’t be upset. There’s nothing more tragic than a depressed celebrity.

Even though some parents were unhappy with Principal David Fabrizio’s decision, he said, “The Honors Night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who despite growth has not been able to maintain a high grade-point average.”

Instead, the ceremony will be included as part of the year-end assembly for students.

Been on both sides of the fence

We all know what if feels like to be sitting in the auditorium through an agonizingly long awards ceremony and thinking, “Hey, what about me?” or “Hey, what about my kid?”

I’ve been on both sides of the fence, getting honors and giving honors, not to mention losing honors. I missed a major academic honor by .01% and I’ve been cut from more teams than I care to remember, which was painful to my pride.

On the other hand, I once taught in a community where everyone got awards for no good reason. The local newspaper had pictures of the varsity tiddlywinks team holding trophies even though they won no championships.

It was like Lake Wobegon, where all the boys and girls were above average and expected an award.

Boosting young egos

This, I realize now, was a manifestation of the self-esteem movement that swept the nation during the 1970s when every kid was duped into thinking he could be Tom Seaver, Cher or Fred Flintstone.

Parents and teachers believed they had a social responsibility to boost egos by telling young people they were winners. I suppose there’s something good about that approach … at least until you lose.

For what it’s worth, I still have the blue ribbon I won for my poem, and every so often I take it out to show my kids. Then, I offer a dramatic recitation of “The Flight of the Falcon,” which in many ways is reminiscent of early T.S. Eliot or Dr. Seuss.

However, my trophy case won’t be complete until I’m recognized by the Westminster Kennel Club, so I’m titling my next poem, “Flight of the Chihuahua.”

Shelton native Joe Pisani can be reached at