Heart and Lip: Intellectual Prowess and the Obnoxious Dork

“Which one is yours?” the nice lady sitting beside me in the spectator seats at the junior high school asked.

“The obnoxious one,” I answered.

She nodded and laughed a little, knowing exactly which kid I meant.

Reach for the Top in the 1980s

We were at the provincial “Reach for the Top” tournament.  As a kid, I’d seen competitions like this one on TV during long, cold, boring afternoons in the days when we only had three channels to watch. It’s a trivia contest for school kids – kind of like Jeopardy only the contestants give their answers in the form of an answer.  Like lots of the stuff on Canadian TV in those days, it seemed to me like another weird Ontario-thing.

Reach for the Top doesn’t exist as a television show anymore but thanks to the dedication of teachers in our area, there’s an untelevised league of it operating in my kids’ schools.  We’ve been involved with it for four years, ever since one of my sons took the local programme by storm.

I admire my son’s smarts but I don’t think he’s always the most knowledgeable kid on his team.  He is, however, the only one who nearly got fouled out for heckling the quiz mistress.  He is also the one who answers more questions than anyone else.  He likes to be right but being wrong isn’t a disaster for him.  The reward of winning makes the occasional “that is incorrect” worth the risk.  In other words, he dominates Reach for the Top out of sheer nerve.

It’s well-known that the sports trivia sections of Reach for the Top matches are usually wash-outs – those and the classic rock sections.  (“Trooper!” I once heard a parent rave.  “Come on. I can’t believe they couldn’t get Trooper.”)  When the topic is sports, the quiz master usually just reads through the questions while the kids wait for the time to run out.

But since points aren’t deducted for giving wrong answers, my kid buzzes in and tries to guess the sports questions anyway, again, out of sheer nerve.  It paid off most spectacularly the time the question asked for the number on Frank Mahovlich’s hockey sweater.

Like a random number generator in a hoodie, my kid picked a value between one and ninety-eight.

“27.”

“That is correct.”

“What?!”

It was unholy.

That match – the one with the hockey sweater divination – was the only time our team beat the team captained by our arch Nemesis, an über-dork named Angus.  In terms of high school competitions, it was an epic moment.  If the Reach for the Top team was the football team there would have been yelling and hugging, water bottles emptied over people’s heads, my kid getting cheered and mauled by dozens of people.  As it was, there was some excited whispering.  I admit I applauded — high and fast, fingers splayed like Snow White — in spite of all the stink-eye.

If my boy was a football quarterback instead of a trivia jock, maybe he would have spent his high school career being celebrated for playing his chosen game with such courage and self-confidence – so much of what is referred to in sports as “heart.”  It’s the willingness to take risks and use raw energy and enthusiasm to out-perform what ought to be expected of our natural talents.

But “heart” is for physical contests.  In the sit-down, four-eyed, noisy-spectators-will-be-ejected world of trivia contests, my kid’s “heart” is called “lip.”  Even I do it when I tell the other parents my kid is the obnoxious one instead of describing him as the gutsy one — the heroic one.  Sure, he doesn’t deserve to win any sportsmanship awards.  But maybe someone could give him a break and acknowledge that his headlong approach to his game is not a character flaw he needs to apologize for but a gift.  And the person who needs to do that first is probably me.

Go Rams!

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