Last year in this space, we looked at the success (or lack thereof) of Skylark champions defending their crown the following year. The evidence was overwhelming in pointing to a sharp and steep decline for a champ the next time out. Upon publication of this piece, the press office of 2007 champion Duane Hoffman released a scathing attack and called it an attempt to create fear among the American people and force them into electing a new and untested champion. But the Skylark's research stood the test of time, and the '08 Skylark saw Duane suffer the same fate as his predecessors--he fell to 125th. None of this bodes well for last year's winner, Texas Guy, who make take refuge somewhere near the Mexican border before it's all over. This is where some of us show our farsightedness and wisdom. By never winning, and really never getting close, we innoculate ourselves against the inevitable decline.
But what about the reverse end of the spectrum? Instead of simply focusing on the bad things that happen to champions the following year, can we not look at how they do leading up? Is there anything we can discern that can help us best predict the 2009 winner?
Here, the evidence is a bit more contradictory. Going back to 2000, when complete standings are still archived here on the site, we can find a little bit of everything. There are some longtimer who win, other times its a fresh face. There are some who've challenged before, others who've had just one shining moment. Last year, Texas Guy was only in his second year in the pool (at least under that name, I have no idea if this is someone I might actually know). He posted a respectable 46th before vaulting all the way to the top. In '07, Duane had a long track record of Skylark participation. It had been mostly positive, including a #8 finish in 2000, but the two years prior to his win had seen him sink below #95. A sign that things can turn in a heartbeat.
2006 champ Rich Shovick is the rarest of breeds. He had come close to the ring once before, back in 2001, when he only needed Arizona to beat Duke. But the Wildcats lost, and Rich had to give up the keys. History has not been kind to those who miss their chance on Monday night. Most go on to respectable Skylark careers, but never get the brass ring. Tom Hoffman is poster child for this group. But Rich got another chance and came back to win a crown.
We have one case of a candidate winning it all their first time out. I guess when you're president (or in the case, POTUS, the Secret Service name for the prez), you can do anything. Potus captured the 2005 title in his (or her) first entry. Similarly, 2002-03 each saw a rookie candidate win, Tom Bezoenik and Saber Zalewski respectively.
As we get closer to 2000, our records are obviously a bit thinner. The pool itself dates to 1994, but the first six seasons (beyond the champ) force us to rely on memory. So we know 2001 champ Pam Rapsard came basically out of nowhere, after finishing near the bottom the previous year. Conversely, Steve Rhoads' 2000 title came after participating every year of the pool, including 1988-93, commonly thought of as the Old Testament period in the history of the Skylark.
Prior to 2000, it was joke amongst the inner circle that connections seemed to be what it was all about. The winner was mostly someone who was in the immediate network of one of the founders. My mom, Donna Flaherty won it twice. Steve's sister Karen took him the prize, as did his late, great father-in-law Carl Buss. Only Pete Beaumenont in 1995 was able to break into the group. But later years, thanks to campaign finance reform legislation, have made fielding a winning candidacy something that's possible for broader numbers of people. And the Skylark has been given back to the common voter.
So what to make of it all? Well, we really can't look at any of the standings from last year and glean who's going to win. Meaning that if I were to predict it, it would likely work out about as well as the rest of my March predictions. Those of us who can't find a secret formula for finding the winners, either in the tournament, or in the pool, will just have to console ourselves with watching those who did succeed come crashing to earth in ensuing years.