Earlier this week we had the fun task of outfitting an aquarium for the newest members of our family. Yes, we added Cornelius, Jose, Lorenzo, and Oscar to the chaos that is our house. In addition to the aquarium we had to buy the gravel, heater, thermometer, crickets, and filter. Although we didn't buy the cricket holder, for $24 worth of fire bellied frogs, we spent an additional $100 worth of supplies to give them a comfortable home.

As I was watching my son and his friend build the waterfall around the water filter, I glanced over to the bookcase and was astonished by the amount of hardware that sat atop my son's shelves. For an 11-year-old, the amount of trophies, medals and other various forms of hardware was pretty impressive.

Even at a young age he's had plenty of opportunities to earn awards since he's played many sports in his short life. Our generation has gone over the top in providing participation medals so everyone can feel good, but the amount of awards that were sitting on his shelves was downright absurd. It represented many miles traveled in our Chevy Suburban, many nights staying in Marriott hotels, many dinners on the road, Friday night registrations, and countless hours of competition on the grass and turf fields across the Mid-Atlantic.

He doesn't play for and I don't coach for the hardware. We've never strayed from the best competition that we could find so these trophies were hard-earned over that time. His brothers had their own collections of awards, but I would trade every one of those trophies, not the memories that accompanied them, for the connections that were made with the parents, the families and especially the players.

Hardware is nice, but it doesn't compare to one of your former players reaching out to you and asking to make a return trip to England with the team. The last time we went as coach and player and went to play soccer against our English hosts. Now of legal age, this time he wants to go as friends and watch the English games together in the pubs.

Trophies and awards are fun and exciting to get when you win the tournaments. They don't compare to one of your former players asking you to write letters of recommendation for them to college coaches or admissions offices or helping them write their entrance essays.

The pictures in the paper celebrating the team's success are great because your friends and extended family get to share in the tournament wins, especially when your orthodontist sends you a laminated copy, but I'll take the relationships with other parents that endure well after our kids have grown up.

Whether it's one trophy or enough to fill your bookcase shelves, the players take great pride in each and every one of them but I'm pretty sure my sons would trade them all for the lasting friendships they've developed through the years as teammates.

As the great American track athlete Jesse Owens said, "Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust."

Reach Robert "Bird" Brown at 410-857-8552 or robert.brown@carrollcontytimes.com.

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