The Fireballs And Their Trophy

When I was a kid UJ and I bowled in a youth league at Riviera Lanes in Akron, Ohio. It was a 16-team league of 12 and 13-year-old boys. Our team was called the Fireballs, which we thought was a pretty cool name. It was a more innocent time then, and we were oblivious to the connotations that more mature people might assign to our team’s moniker.

It was a handicap league that bowled on Saturday mornings during the school year. Every week you bowled a three-game set against another team and earned points for each team victory in each game. It was fun, but we were, at bottom, competitive adolescent boys who really wanted to win. We would follow our team in the standings and watch our individual handicaps move up and down based on each week’s performance.

To our mild surprise, our team was pretty good. We weren’t the best team by a long shot, but we soon were among the top five teams in the league and we stayed there as the season wore on. Winning a trophy at the end of the season became a realistic possibility. In those days, trophies weren’t simply handed out to every participant. You had to earn them, and in our league only the top three teams got one. Ending up in at least third place became our goal.

Finally, we got to the match that would decide whether we would get that coveted trophy. I felt pressure like I’d never felt it before — not in a spelling bee, not in a school play, not messing around playing baseball in our neighborhood. A real trophy was on the line! And bowlers are up there all by themselves, with no referees or teammates to blame. I remember standing in the approach area, hoping desperately that I wouldn’t throw a gutter ball, miss an easy spare, or trip and do a humiliating face plant. We all felt that pressure, yet we were somehow able to get up there, win the match, and finish in third place.

It made us feel good about ourselves, and when we received our trophies — small pedestals less than a foot high, with a gold bowler on top and a third-place plaque at the bottom — it was sweet. I took it home and put it in a prominent place on the dresser in the room UJ and I shared.

Worst Trophy Ever

College football features lots of weird trophies that are steeped in tradition, like old oaken buckets and wooden turtles and long axes, among others.  It would be hard to say which of the many trophies is the weirdest or the worst — until now.

A few days ago the Iowa Corn Growers Association unveiled the Cy-Hawk Trophy that will be given to the winner of the annual game between the Iowa State Cyclones and the Iowa Hawkeyes.  (Cyclones and Hawkeyes = Cy-Hawk.  Pretty creative, eh?)  The trophy features a farmer kneeling next to a basket of corn, presenting an ear to a young boy wearing a baseball cap while a woman holding a young child looks on.  What it has to do with sports generally, or football specifically, is anybody’s guess.  The CEO of Iowa Corn says, however, that the trophy represents “the people and characteristics that are uniquely Iowan.”

Perhaps — that is, if Iowans are slow-witted corn cultists.  The farmer seems to be amazed that corn has sprung from the ground and is ready to perform some kind of ritual to celebrate its arrival.  The kid in the baseball cap, the girl, and their Mom, on the other hand, presumably have lived on the farm long enough to have seen an ear of corn before and don’t find it to be a particularly awesome object, no matter what weird old Dad might believe.  Seriously, what kind of bizarre life must these people lead if they are regularly kneeling around the family corn basket?  How many people in Iowa even have a corn basket, anyway?  And what’s with the trophy name?  “Cy-Hawk” sounds like something somebody with a phlegm problem might do to clear their clogged airways.

If you were a football player, would you even want to win this trophy?  Would anyone stand up and make an impassioned Knute Rockne-type speech about the need to win back the treasured Cy-Hawk?  And if your team did prevail, would your school want to prominently display it anywhere that it could be seen by, say, potential recruits who don’t happen to worship the Mighty Corn God?