Kris VanDeusen shared his story at the
25th Annual Great Computer Challenge on May 1, 2010.
My most memorable trip to the Great Computer challenge was our second trip. However, In order to tell you about my second trip to the Great Computer Challenge, I must begin by telling you about my first in 2002. It was a disappointing experience as my top team had one student who wasn’t happy with the rotation of responsibilities that her team had decided upon. She played with the mouse, complained and wasted time causing them to not produce a quality solution. It was a horrible experience for them…and it was my fault. You see, I decided to put the troublesome student on their team, because I thought she was a better competitor than a fourth student, who did not compete. I knew that she could often behave selfishly, but I put her on the team regardless. They lost miserably. No one faulted me or even considered that I was the one to blame. The two who suffered returned the following year despite what had happened, along with that little girl who did not compete in 2002. They worked hard, spending time learning and practicing, and vowed to win at least an honorable mention. They set the goal, not me.
I spent the Friday night before packing and preparing our equipment. We did not have laptops then in 2003 and I had to borrow four from the high school. I changed certain settings, eliminating the need for the login passwords. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but not writing the passwords down for my three girls or me for that matter, proved almost disastrous.
When I left them to compete they looked ready, but catastrophe loomed. They were fifth graders now competing in their second Great Computer Challenge and for the second straight year they were in danger of losing because of factors beyond their control. During the competition one of the girls closed the laptop. When she opened it back up, it was locked; a setting that I neglected to take off. The password was the only way to unlock it, but no one knew it. I received a call on my cell phone and rushed to their room. I was allowed in, but shocked to see the laptop locked.
“What was the password?” I thought to myself. “My God, I am about to let down three eleven year olds,” who stared at me with much consternation. They had already wasted 25 minutes trying to get in touch with me, so I was not the most favored person in the room at the time. I sat down and started typing in combinations of letters and numbers that I could remember…nothing. I began to panic.
“I let them down last year,” I thought to myself, “Am I fated to let them down again?” I kept typing, while the girls squirmed and appeared on the verge of tears. “We waited a whole year to get back here and now this?” Suddenly, I hit the right combination (I do not know how) and their project exploded on the screen before us. I think I heard angels singing on high as rays of heavenly light lit upon the laptop.
“That’s it! That’s it! Now go, Mr. Van Deusen. Get out of here. We don’t want to get disqualified!” I left relieved, but the girls had lost a lot of time. After the competition time limit had expired, they said they did a good job, but that they really didn’t have time to proofread or to make alterations. I told them it wasn’t their fault and that I was very proud of them. They finished in an hour and twenty minutes. That in itself was an accomplishment.
While waiting for the judges to make up their minds, we watched the movie that was shown, ate lunch and walked around Old Dominion University. We talked about winning an honorable mention or even a third place.
“Maybe we could get one of those. That would be great.”
The girls were in good spirits and not one of them blamed me or complained. I would later tell them that their attitude was what made me most proud. As we listened to the names of schools being called out, we knew our chance of winning any place at all was dashed. When honorable mention and third were announced, we half-heartedly smiled at each other. Alex was counting change for a drink she was going to buy. Ali fidgeted in her chair. Sophie wringed her hands and stared at the announcer. She had more hope in her soul than I’ve ever known. Second place was called, and we took a collective sigh.
“There’s no way it was good enough for first, “sighed Alex, “No way.”
“First Place for Desktop Publishing…Matthew Whaley Elementary!”
Alex jumped up, the coins in her hand flying into space. Sophie screamed indecipherable sentences. Ali grabbed Sophie with both hands and screamed like…well, like a fifth grader who just won a major competition. They held on to each other and jumped up and down laughing and shouting.
I watched with sublime satisfaction for a moment, engulfed in astonished joy. We practically ran to the stage. I remember feeling such elation as the girls received their medals. Alex later told me that they only won because they simply did what I told them to do. I told her that a coach is only as good as his players. There is no way I won anything, and I thanked her for letting me be part of the experience. (I should have thanked them all for bailing me out of all the mistakes I had made.) For a brief time all was right with the world. That moment will always be ours.
A few minutes later another team, Mariah, Young Ah, and Emma won honorable mention in desktop presentations. It was a grand day.
Oh, one more thing. Because their car had broken down, Alex and her mother rode with me and four other students, who will always remember that we stopped for ice cream on the way home. Sandra had a friend who was single and wanted me to meet. She later introduced me to Kim, who I later married in 2005. Alex and her mother attended the ceremony.
Those girls still keep in touch with me and will be graduating high school this year. Each still has her medal displayed proudly at home, and they speak of the Great Computer Challenge as a spectacular moment in their lives. I’ve brought students to the competition every year since, but 2003 will always remain my most memorable because of those three little girls who never quit and believed in themselves. I truly don’t know how important it was for those girls to win that day, but I am so glad they did. What I do know are the lessons we learned: that selfishness can cause epic failures, that great accomplishment can happen through teamwork and perseverance, and that a teacher can eternally be indebted to three children for overcoming his mistakes. These lessons are forever represented in the form of three little medals that say far more than “First Place.”