The Award


The Award

Football season was over, but the glory lingered on. The high school team had enjoyed an undefeated season, romping over each opponent by at least two touchdowns.

Even after the season ended, the team stuck together. Some of them ate lunch on the balcony that overlooked the main dining area of the school cafeteria. Originally the tables on the balcony had been used by teachers so they could eat and still keep an eye on the students, but with a new addition to the building, the teachers moved into a faculty lounge, and the tables became available. There was no official reservation for the team to sit there, but it was just something understood by other students.

Kevin, a sophomore, was the only Mormon on the team. He wasn’t as mean as some of the others, but he was faster. He played end and had caught eight touchdown passes during the season.

It had taken the team a while before they could accept him. After the season was over, they couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t drink with them on weekends. To make matters worse, he was the only one who worried about grades.

One day in January, as Kevin set his food tray on the table, the quarterback, Craig Williams, stood looking at the students eating lunch in the main dining area below them.

“Why are there so many ugly girls?” Craig asked.

“Look who’s talking,” someone shot back. “You’ve got a face like a Halloween mask.”

“Well, that’s different,” Craig said with a grin, “I’ve got character and style. Besides, guys don’t have to be good-looking, but girls are supposed to.”

Kevin sat down and ate his lunch.

“Now you take that girl, for instance,” Craig continued. “I bet she’s the ugliest girl in school.”

The fullback, who loved competition, rose to the challenge. “You’re crazy. I see one who’s twice as bad as yours.”

The competition continued as Kevin ate. Five of the team stood by the railing and bantered back and forth over their choices for the ugliest girl.

Finally they decided on one girl.

“If ugly were money, she’d be a millionaire,” one of them said with a grin.

“She’s easily the world champion,” Craig agreed. “She deserves a trophy or something.”

“How about a sweater with no opening for her neck so it’d hide her face?” someone joked.

“No,” Craig laughed, “but why not give her an award? Maybe a corsage with a card telling her what we think about her. We could leave it taped on the outside of her locker. It’d be anonymous.”

They all agreed it would be the perfect thing to do.

“Kevin, you’re a scholar. Write us a poem for the award.”

“What kind of poem?” he asked, finishing his custard pudding.

“A poem telling her how ugly she is,” Craig answered.

Kevin took a napkin from his tray and began to work on a rhyme. He enjoyed the feeling of being part of the group. In a few minutes he finished and read it aloud.

“When we speak of ugly, you’re the subject of talk.
You’ve got a face that could stop a clock.
Accept this gift for what it’s worth;
We think you’re the ugliest girl on earth.”

They broke up into spasms of laughter.

“All right!” Craig shouted, still laughing.

“It’s perfect! Let’s all chip in some money, and I’ll get a corsage on Saturday. We’ll give it to her Monday.”

“Who’s going to give it to her?” someone asked.

“Does anybody know who she is or where her locker is?” Craig asked.

Kevin stood up to see who they were talking about. The girl sat alone, eating quickly, with her head lowered. He recognized her. She had a locker next to Colleen, an LDS girl he was dating.

“I do,” Kevin said.

“Okay, you can deliver it. I’ll get the corsage to you Monday in history class. You put your poem with it and tape it to the outside of her locker just before the bell rings.”

After school Kevin drove Colleen home. She was one of five other LDS students in the high school.

When they got to her home, she invited him in for some cookies and milk.

“What’s the name of the girl who has a locker next to yours?” he asked between bites of a chocolate-chip cookie.

“That’s Mary Beth Allen. Why?”

“She’s really awful, isn’t she?”

“Is she? Do you know her?”

“No, I’ve just seen her around. She’s ugly, though, that’s for sure.”

“She’s not so bad when you get to know her.”

“Who’d want to do that?” he joked.

“I don’t know. If she’d just do something with her hair, she’d have more friends.”

“Don’t tell anybody,” Kevin said, “but the guys on the team have chosen her the ugliest girl in school. We’re giving her a corsage and a special poem I wrote.”

He recited the poem to Colleen. When he finished, she looked at him in shock.

“You’re not really going through with this, are you?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Do you know how that’s going to make her feel?”

“I don’t care how she feels.”

“Kevin, you’re the only member of the Church on the team. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“It’s taken me all this time for them to accept me as part of the group. I’m not going to preach to them and destroy everything.”

“But you’re willing to destroy that girl, aren’t you?” she asked.

“She’s ugly. Even you agree to that,” he shot back.

“She’s a child of God.”

“Okay, but she’s an ugly child of God.”

“I can see ugliness, but it’s not in her. It’s in you and your vigilantes!”

“What right have you got to be my conscience?” he asked.

“I’m not your conscience. If you feel guilty, that is your conscience.”

“No girl is going to tell me what to do!” He got out of his chair, full of anger.

Before he left, he remembered they had a date. “Oh, what about tonight?” he asked.

“Forget it!” she said.

He spent a dateless weekend.

On Sunday during priesthood meeting, he made sure to volunteer to bless the sacrament in Sunday School, mainly to spite Colleen so she’d know that he didn’t feel guilty about the award.

Before the sacrament song, the Sunday School president got up. “We should all be thinking about the Savior during this time. These young men who bless and pass the sacrament stand in the place of the Savior in this sacred ordinance. Let’s see if we can’t all be a little more reverent today.”

After he finished breaking the bread, near the end of the sacrament song, he looked over the congregation to find where Colleen was sitting.

Finally he found her, in the back row with Mary Beth Allen sitting next to her.

“Why is she here?” he thought. “She’s not a Mormon. She’s not supposed to be here. Colleen must have invited her to get back at me.”

He felt his face turning red and perspiration breaking out all over. His vocal cords tightened up, and he started to cough. He was sure he couldn’t get through the prayer.

“Will you give the prayer on the bread?” he gasped to the other priest, who nodded his head.

The prayer was given, and the deacons lined up to receive the trays.

The room became quiet as the sacrament was passed.

Kevin sat down and leaned forward so he couldn’t be seen by the congregation. His eyes fastened on the sacrament prayer he was to give, and it was as if he were reading it for the first time in his life.

“What would the Savior do about Mary Beth Allen?” he thought.

Once the question was asked, the answer was obvious.

By the time he was to offer the prayer on the water, he’d made up his mind. He would have no part in humiliating Mary Beth. He’d tear up the poem.

During Sunday School class, Colleen introduced Mary Beth. “Mary Beth and I have lockers next to each other, but we never really knew each other very well until yesterday when I phoned her. I asked her to come today because she’s such a good person. I found out that she works with handicapped children every day for a couple of hours as part of her Christian service.”

“That’s wonderful,” the teacher enthusiastically said.

“Oh, they’re such special children,” Mary Beth said. “I love them all.”

After Sunday School and lunch, Kevin drove to Colleen’s house. She let him in, and they talked about everything else but Mary Beth, until finally he pulled out a white handkerchief and waved it.

“I surrender!” he said with a grin. “I’ll make sure we don’t give her the award.”

“Oh, but I want you to give her an award. You’ve already bought the corsage. No use wasting it.”

“Girls,” he muttered. “I’ll never understand them.”

“All we need to do is to change the message on the card. I’ve already written it.” She handed him a small card:

“A group of athletes want you to know that we think you’re a special person. Thanks for giving of yourself to work with handicapped children. You set a good example for all of us. We have chosen you the winner of our Extra-Mile Award.”

“Well?” she asked.

“It’s not exactly what the team had in mind. They’ll kill me if they find out.”

“You can handle them.”

“Are you kidding? They’re animals.”

“I have faith in you.”

On Monday, a little before lunch, Kevin received the corsage from Craig. He hurried to her locker before classes let out and taped the corsage box and the card onto it.

“Well, that’s over,” he thought, happy to get rid of the whole business.

“Did you give her the award?” Craig asked at lunch.

“Yes,” Kevin answered without explaining any details.

On Tuesday, during announcements on the PA system, the principal gave the usual list of upcoming events and then, in addition, said, “A girl has asked me to thank the anonymous group of guys who gave her a corsage. She wants them to know that it means a great deal to her.”

Kevin knew he was in trouble.

The team was waiting for him at lunch.

“All right, what’d you do?”

“I didn’t use the poem. I used a different message.”

They stood menacingly around him.

“What kind of message?”

“I told her she was special.”

“I knew we never should’ve let a Mormon do it,” the fullback complained.

“Special? Are you kidding? What’s special about her?”

“She works with handicapped children every day without getting paid.”

“Why would she do a dumb thing like that?”

“I don’t know,” Kevin said. “She says she loves them.”

Just then, Mr. Graham, the principal, climbed up the stairs toward them. They all felt threatened by him.

“Hey, Mr. Graham, how’s it going?” one of them said sheepishly.

“I’m trying to find the group who gave Mary Beth Allen a corsage.”

“Why?” Craig asked warily. “There wasn’t anything wrong with the corsage, was there? You know, like a tarantula hiding in it?”

“No, but her mother called and asked me to thank them personally if I could find them.”

“Oh,” Craig said quietly.

“You see, Mary Beth has a kidney malfunction. In order to stay alive, she has to go on a dialysis machine periodically. Sometimes she gets discouraged. The award was the nicest thing that’s happened to her for quite some time.”

“You mean she’s going to die?” someone asked.

“No, but she’s had to face the possibility of an early death. It’s been difficult for her.”

“Then why does she work with children?” Craig blurted out.

“How do you know she works with children?” Mr. Graham asked.

That was the first time any of them could remember Mr. Graham smiling at them.

“I won’t embarrass you by asking if you were the ones who gave her the award, but I want you to know there’s a very grateful mother in this city.”

Mr. Graham left them with their thoughts.

“Where is she?” Craig suddenly asked.

They leaned over the balcony and looked. In a few seconds they found her, sitting alone as usual, but this time wearing a corsage, even though it was now beginning to fade.

They stared in silence at the corsage.

“I’m going down to eat with her,” Craig said, grabbing his tray and heading down the stairs.

“He’s crazy,” the fullback said. “What if someone sees him with her?”

The next day Craig ate lunch with the team.

“Well, how is she?” one of them asked.

“She’s okay when you get to know her. I promised her a favor, and I’ll need you guys to help me.”

“What kind of favor?”

“I promised her that we’d show up in our football gear at the school where those handicapped children go. Some of the kids are real football fans. They’d be really happy if we visited them.”

“I’m not going,” one of the players said. “I don’t want any kids climbing all over me.”

“If they do, play with them. C’mon you guys, help me out.”

They visited the school for handicapped children on Friday. When Mary Beth was with the children, she became a different person, radiating love and enthusiasm. The team helped the boys in the school put on the helmets and shoulder pads and taught them how to throw a football.

On Monday they met at lunch as usual. As Kevin approached the table with his tray, Craig leaned against the railing, looking down at the students below.

Finally he turned to face Kevin. “You know, it’s strange.”

“What is?”

“Well, we pick the person in school who everybody agrees is a loser, but then she turns out to be okay once we get to know her.”

“So?” someone asked.

“Okay, maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I’ve been thinking. What if it isn’t?” Craig turned to view the crowded cafeteria. “What if every one of them turns out to be special in some way?”

“They’re all children of God,” Kevin finally dared to say.

The fullback swore and then said, “You guys are crazy! Life’s very simple. There are winners, and there are losers. We’re the winners, and the girls we date are winners. The rest are all losers.”

“But what if the things that make them winners aren’t so easy to spot?”

The fullback shook his head, muttered something, and left. Several others followed him.

Craig and Kevin and a few others leaned over the railing and looked down at the other students again. There were so many of them—guys and girls in a variety of clothes and hair styles and shapes and nationalities, yet each one somehow important.

Finally Craig said quietly, “Let’s give the award once a month.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann