The Real Champ
"Tomorrow is the big day.... I'm going to run in the city-wide High School Sports Competition. . . . I'm gonna try hard! " These were the thoughts that went round and round in Bobby Winter's head as he sat in the Talmud Torah classroom and tried to listen to Rabbi Goodman's lecture concerning the laws of covering one's head. Usually, Bobby was most attentive in class, and an excellent student. In fact, he had already decided to go to New York and enter a Yeshiva in the fall. Yet, who could keep his mind on studying when such a cherished dream came true as the opportunity to win the city championship for one's school and to be the talk, pride and envy of hundreds of youngsters throughout the city.
Well, this was exactly Bobby's situation at that moment. He had come in first in the elimination contest of the 400 yard dash, and tomorrow he was to run against the other two winners. Most other boys would have absented themselves from Talmud Torah altogether before such a race. But Robert Winter was too conscientious for that. He tried very hard to keep his mind from wandering and made every effort to listen to his teacher. Rabbi Goodman understood what was going on in his best pupil's mind so he tried to arouse his interest in the lesson in a more direct and personal way. He asked Bobby whether in his opinion wearing a hat or skullcap in public was a kiddush hashem (sanctification of G-d's name) or a chillul hashem (profanation of G-d's name) . Bobby thought for a moment and then stated unequivocally: "In my opinion, one should never be ashamed to show that he is a Jew. In fact, I believe it is a Jew's duty to profess his respect towards G-d by keeping his head covered at all times and in all places." Rabbi Goodman was satisfied with the answer of his pupil and showed the class that Bobby's thinking was clearly in line with the Din, Jewish law. For a Jewish male must wear a head covering whenever he walks the distance of four normal steps or more.
While Rabbi Goodman was speaking, Bobby's thoughts again turned to the big race tomorrow. Bobby kept his head covered at all times despite the teasing of his classmates at the Public High School. His athletic talent, and his gift as a student won him many friends and great admiration, and soon the fact that he wore a skullcap was ignored. He was the kind of boy who practiced his religion with conviction. And that was exactly the reason why he was now pondering tomorrow's race. Until today he had thought it unnecessary to wear a skullcap when participating in a track meet or other sport event. But Rabbi Goodman's words about wearing a hat in public being a kiddush hashem had made a profound impression on Bobby and he resolved to face the huge crowd in tomorrow's championship with a skullcap on his head, come what may.
At night, he discussed it with his father who was proud of his son's attitude. He had always feared that Bobby's athletic ability would get him into the wrong company and would corrupt him. He was very much gratified by his son's decision and told him that he would rather see him lose than transgress one iota of Torah Law. Bobby's mother picked out a woolen skullcap that would stick to his head and gave him a bobbypin to make sure it would not fall off.
The next morning, Robert Winter went to Shul, though he felt a bit nervous. He hardly touched any of the light breakfast his mother prepared for him, packed his shorts, spikes and sweater into a small hand bag, and went off to the sports arena where the finals were to be held. The park was filled to capacity; many of his friends and schoolmates were already waiting for him. His coach was nervously running around making last minute preparations. The competition began. The 400 yard dash in which Bobby was to participate was third on the program. So he had ample time to limber up, listen to the admonitions of his coach, and calm himself down. His coach was quite surprised when he saw Bobby wearing the woolen skullcap fastened with a bobby pin. It was the first time he had ever seen him wear a cap during a race. Though he would have preferred it otherwise, he did not want to get involved in an argument with Bobby about religious matters just before a race. Who cared anyway, as long as the kid won the race. And to the coach it looked like he had a mighty good chance to do just that. Bobby had a well-proportioned and well-built body, a pair of strong and fast legs, and his headwork surely matched that of any of the other competitors. The coach knew that he could rely on the kid to do his best. So, why argue about the fancy headgear he wore and run the risk of upsetting him.
Everything was ready for the big event. The first two meets on the program had gone off well; but Bobby's school had not yet won a competition. Everyone who had any connection with Bobby's school waited anxiously for the 400 yard dash. The three contestants took their places on the track. Bobby's opponents were taller and stronger fellows than he was. "Bang," went the starter's pistol, and off they were, chasing each other around the oval. Bobby followed the coach's advice and let the others lead him by a small margin. After the 200 yard mark he spread his step a little, put in more energy, and was soon up to the second man. He kept abreast with him until the 300 yard mark. Then he. increased his speed in pursuit of the leader, a husky senior, at least two years older than himself. The crowd howled. Bobby's name was chanted in a faster and faster tempo. The cheering squad of the school was all excited. All eyes watched the little fellow pull up closer and closer to the leader. About the middle of the last hundred yards, Bobby was still a yard behind. He thought his lungs would collapse when he widened his stride even more and gave it everything he had. Sure enough, he draw up to the leader and overtook him about thirty yards before the goal-line, fired by the wild shouts of his schoolmates.
Then it happened! As Bobby took the lead, his skullcap fell off! For a fraction of a second, he hesitated. Then he stopped, turned around, flicked up the skullcap, put it on and began running. The crowd watched in complete silence, bewildered by the strange spectacle. Bobby still pulled in second. As miserable as he was about losing, deep in his heart he was glad for what he did. He did not care if he had earned the scorn of his schoolmates or coach. His father and his Rabbi would understand and appreciate what he had done.
But Bobby was mistaken; not only his father and Rabbi recognized his heroic deed. M.C.the mayor handed out the trophies to the winners and Bobby stepped forward to receive the second prize, half disappointed, half proud, he had the surprise of his life. The mayor told the audience to rise in honor of a young hero. This young boy, he explained, lost the championship, but he had won a greater race - a race with his convictions and conscience. The mayor shook Bobby's hand as the crowd rose to their feet and applauded wildly.