Column: Trophy turns monsters into morning champs


To this point, David Pierini knows not of his gift.

He was a photographer at this newspaper who won all sorts of awards for the composition and feeling and nuance in his pictures. Nice man. Wildly popular. Probably The Herald’s only legitimate media celebrity. One step shy of groupies.

I was happy about all of that fluff. But I am more grateful for his enthusiasm on the tennis court. For it was somewhere in a place called Livonia, Mich., that team spirit earned him the noble title of 1984 Churchill High School boys tennis Super Charger. He was awarded a foot-high trophy for his rah-rah edifice, and that prize has, in the winter of 2014, become the shine around which my rise orbits.

I never played tennis. My children recognize it on TV but have never held a racket. We use tennis balls as dog toys. But the trophy Pierini left at the office when he moved away has become our Davis Cup, and every day is like the ladies final at Wimbledon.

Every weekday morning at 6 o’clock, I have 30 minutes to rouse three daughters from bed, convince them to put on suitable clothes, coax them to eat fruit, inform them that too much cereal will make their stomachs explode, bribe them to brush their teeth, threaten to leave them at home and shove them into the back seat.

It’s a tsunami of attitude. Nothing about it is gentle.

Now, by the grace of Pierini’s super-duper attitude and (ahem) my conniving brilliance, those days are gone.

Each morning, the most docile, least combative child receives Pierini’s old trophy, pulled last month from a garage cabinet and upgraded with a strip of duct tape and a Sharpie recognizing the winner as the Morning Champion.

Since December, my children have competed each morning to out-sweet one another. Who’s the first one dressed? Who eats more pineapple? Bet you can’t brush your teeth first and put the cap back on the toothpaste. Dad, may I please thank you for being the best daddy ever? Chaos has become a controlled, patient, almost serene experience. There’s still some mild arguing about the need to wipe after you use the potty, but the terrorists are otherwise submissive.

We are like the Von Trapp family, me with my whistle and Brigitta, Gretl and Lisel marching into place and standing at attention. I’d love the kids to call me “Captain,” but my wife — though she is a big fan of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens — is not willing to play the part of Frauline Maria.

Besides, I like bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens just fine, but ice cream is what really motivates my kids. They might have bought the whole trophy thing anyway, but I’ve argued about socks enough to know I needed to sweeten the deal with however many scoops it takes. At end of the month, whichever child has won the Morning Champion trophy most often will be encouraged to dive into a bucket of Neapolitan with no regard for hygiene or health. Here’s the syrup. Take the cap off and dump it. Have some sprinkles. Two spoons if you want.

We keep standings.

I leap on the entertainment center each evening and use a bad Russian accent to fumble my way through a declaration of the winner. Pouting is not permitted. They all giggle. They cheer that day’s champion and even admit when they don’t deserve admiration.

We refuse to contribute to the wussification of America. So we have one winner and two losers every day. Didn’t win? You whined about your backpack. Deal with it. Only once has there been a tie. When the kids went to my mother’s house for a two-night slumber party after Christmas, Grandma reported everybody behaved well. My mother used to be old-school. Once, when I really ticked her off on the way home from Evansville, she sped home in a fury. From the passenger’s seat, I sheepishly asked where we were going. “Hell!” she screamed. Sadly, Grandma is a now a big pansy full of hogwash about how her grandchildren are so perfectly pleasant before sunrise.

I am not so pliable.

Like a judge of gymnastics or ice skating, I find mistakes unseen to common observers. I have been accused — by the middle child, age 5 — of cheating. She informed me last week that I am “always giving the to trophy” to the oldest child, age 7. Honors, I replied, are not given. They are earned. That’s not to say I don’t finagle with the results.

I mean, the most difficult task for the youngest child each morning is to lay there and not urinate on the carpet while I change her clothes. She could conceivably win the award every day. Because she is 2 and thus unaware of the trophy’s significance, I don’t let that happen. A few weeks ago, while the oldest was dressing up for school, I dressed her down. “You are 7 years old. Seven. There is no reason you don’t win that trophy every day. No reason.”

She’s won almost every day since. She is guaranteed of at least a tie. She is guaranteed at least two scoops. If she wants them for breakfast, it only makes sense.

Jason Recker is the news editor at The Herald. By the grace of God, he made it home from Evansville alive. His email is

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