Thursday, July 21, 2011

If I win, do you lose?

Free Throw update from Court Crandall on Vimeo.

What always seems to divides us is a line. Sometimes the line is a border, a property boundary, a perceived sense of difference between co-workers, ethnic or religious groups, or sometimes it's as simple as a free throw line.

Eight high school students stood at the line. They threw their hopes in the air and took a shot at one $40,000 college scholarship.

According to Rob Kuznia's article, Free-Throwing His Way to College, any high school senior with a GPA of 3.0 or better at Compton High in Compton, Calif. was eligible to enter the competition. Out of approximately 500 seniors, only 80 qualified. The original 80 had been boiled down to eight who lined up to get out of Compton.

I don't blame them. Compton High would not make my list of 'schools I want to send my kids to.' reports that on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, Compton scores a three on when it comes to test scores. In 2008, only 69% of the teachers were fully credentialed, and more than half the students were eligible for free or reduced price lunch programs.

Yet, despite these challenges eight Compton high schoolers had been accepted into college. They just didn't know how they would pay for it. For them, the line was drawn between sad reality versus unlimited potential — if they could only out shoot their biggest competitor, who had also qualified, Allan Guei the basketball captain.

They took their best shots.

Then the basketball athlete stepped up.

It wasn't all doom and gloom. By showing up and trying, each one of them had automatically earned at least $1,000 towards college. But $1,000 is not $40,000 and college isn't cheap.

Sure, they had a chance. But really the basketball star?

Court Crandall, one of the owners of Wong, Doody, Crandall, Wiener, a Seattle/Los Angeles advertising firm conceived the contest, produced the event and subsequently the documentary that will be shopped at places like Sundance.

"I thought the free throw is a good metaphor in a world where there's a bunch of lines that are kind of dividing us," mused Crandall.

He was right, the free throw line rallied the students behind a common cause and like every bad contest it divided the winner from the losers. The winner in this case was indeed, Allan Guei, the basketball captain.

Guei sounds like a good kid. The columnist who wrote about this, Rob Kuznia, reports that after winning, Guei said, "Today was an exciting day. Last night, me and my parents, we prayed about it. We just left it in God’s hands.”

In this case, God's hands are as intriguing as Guei's. Three months after winning $40,000, Guei opened his hands and released his winnings. He's not dividing it, he's giving it all away. The students who competed with him at the free throw line will split it. The rest of the story is that Guei received a full ride at Cal-State Northridge, he felt blessed, it led him to share.

Like a mom who winds up to warn her kids about choices and regrets, I worry that something bad will happen to Guei, and he'll wish he hadn't done that. But I don't want the documentary to end with regrets. Nor do I want to be cynical about the acres of press this has generated for the marketing firm.

I want to say, sometimes the lines that divide us can be as artificial as a line drawn on the floor. I'd like to muse that when a co-worker steps up to the line to perform, if they do a good job and shine, it doesn't leave the rest of us tarnished. I want to banish our fear that if someone else 'wins' we lose. I want to applaud the kid who started with so little and had his plate of blessings piled high, but didn't take all the winnings home.

We need to fight against self-interest and be a good team member or at least a good sport. If we're going to compete, we need to compete with ourselves to be the best simple, human being we can be.

Who knows what will happen when we cross that line.

Read more:
Student splits 40K in winnings runners-up 
Free-throwing his way to college