The Idiot-athon

Of all the gloriously exuberant excesses of the "Idiot-athon", surely the shuttle run was the silliest and the most fun. After running 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 yards out picking up and putting down blocks of wood, competitors were required to remove a plastic bone-the femur if memory serves-in the game of "Operation." Touching the side with the tweezers added a 30 second penalty to the run time. Noteworthy how shaky our hands were after all that sprinting.

Running, biking, and swimming were on the syllabus every year. Canoeing and archery were frequent events. But the remaining five contests varied from bench press to standing broad jump, from running 100 yards with a 75-pound sack of sand on our shoulders to softball throw.

If I stunk at shot put and pull-ups, I could make up points in the endurance events. A Florida boy born and bred, I could handle a canoe pretty well and enjoyed watching stronger competitors boink back and forth while I steered gracefully out and back around the bouy. I placed in the middle of the pack on the obstacle course, fast up the net but slow over the eight-foot wood barriers.

Such a gloriously stupid contest; such fun. A decathlon for the young at heart, a splendid competition with ribbons and fried chicken for all competitors. Who won? Who remembers? Who cares?

The camaraderie and fellowship were also first rate. We all shouted outrageously for one another, giving advice and encouragement. "Watch out for the three-foot drop at mile four of the mountain bike course!" "Don't slip in the mud at the turn around point on the obstacle course!"

A snarkier competitor could argue that cheering, support, and guidance make no sense if anybody actually cared about winning or losing. Somebody gets five points for first place and somebody else doesn't. In a sense, encouraging a competitor is arguing against your own interest. But again, in the glorious South Florida sunshine covered in sand and sweat, who could possibly care who came in first or last? "Play hard; play fair. Nobody hurt."

In selective college admissions on the other hand, many would argue that the stakes are higher. Statistics are readily available regarding regular and early decision. Counselors openly share advice about essay topics: "DON'T write about the death of your kitten!" And everybody knows how to maximize a student's chances of getting in off the waitlist. The advice is simple and straightforward. Bring to the attention of the admissions committee any new information. Write a polite email pointing out improvements in test scores or grades. And tell the college that if admitted to OBU that you will attend.

IF Old Brick University is indeed your first choice.

Which is why I was outraged to learn of a colleague who gave advice to a student who was "waitlisted" at three "top" schools. The counselor advised the student to tell all three colleges "if admitted, I will attend."

Which, obviously, was not true.

This counselor was trying to confer an unfair advantage. She recommended that her student cheat. The line between encouragement--"proofread your essay carefully"--and fraud--telling more than one school you will show up if admitted--is clear.

No new first year beds are invented for the cheater. The freshman class doesn't get bigger by one student. The student only takes the place of some other child. In my estimation, the other child is probably more deserving.

This counselor's inappropriate advice shames ethical advisors everywhere. This inappropriate practice is a long way from men and women splendidly racing through a glorious South Florida morning, trying to keep their hands from shaking as they remove a plastic femur after a sprint.

One thought on “The Idiot-athon

  1. Charlotte Marie Klaar

    You are so right! The part I find so difficult is to convince families that they should a) go with the college to whom they have deposited and b) if they feel they must chase a wait list, they should chase only one. Unfortunately, when we give advice on what to do about one wait list, they use that advice to chase more than one. I often try to explain that keeping more than one college on their hook is detrimental to another student for whom that college may be a dream.

    Another pet peeve of mine is when clients won’t tell colleges that they have no intention of accepting the offer. This puts other kids in a waiting mode. Pick your top two acceptances, visit both again, make a choice and deposit. It is not rocket science!!!! I just wish we could convince the world to stop being so self-serving.


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