When I first started teaching and coaching in the 1960's in the South San Francisco Unified School District, we had annual awards' banquets in which we presented eligible senior athletes a school trophy, earned by the athletes who participated in the sport for three years, two of which were at the varsity level. It was hard to earn and an important achievement. For many years, trophies signified achievement.
Those readers with children or grandchildren have witnessed the explosion of awards, beginning in the pee wee leagues, where trophies and awards flow like popcorn at multiplex movie theatres. They signify that everyone is a winner, whether earned or not. I wonder if this expansion of feel-good measures is actually beneficial to our children, or whether it is a symbol of a movement in this country that somehow we're all winners, no matter how watered down the standard for winning has become.
As things become more commonplace, the specialness that used to attach has evaporated. In showing my age, I remember when the baseball game of the week on Saturdays was anticipated all week long. Now we have games virtually every night of the week, and they're not so special anymore. NFL football was a Sunday tradition until it became a Monday, and Thursday and occasionally a Saturday event, and again, not so special. Oh, and for those other nights of the week, we have college football games from teams in conferences that are barely recognizable.
We used to have one boxing authority and definable weight classes; now innumerable "champions" from numerous authorities with names and records known only to the most devoted fight fans, whose numbers decrease in proportion to the increase in supposed champions.
Different leagues have teams make play-offs with mediocre records (even losing records in some instances) as the number of play-off eligible teams continues to increase. College football bowl games proliferate featuring teams with six wins out of an 11 or 12 game regular schedule. More college teams now make March Madness in basketball; there are 68 now, can 136 be far away? Of course, if you miss the NCAA's there are a couple of other season ending touraments, one of which you pay to enter.
I was in many events in Sacramento when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger received an award. His stock line when accepting was "...thank you for this award, which is my most recent award". It would always get a small laugh, but signified a somewhat larger question about the meriting of the award.
We all crave some degree of recognition, but it's important to remember that there should be a connection to achievement. When that's the case, the award will have value beyong simply getting it for being there.