Some lessons in life take some experience to learn. Why shouldn’t you drink and drive? Why move prudently in relationships? Why pay your dues at the office before seeking advancement? All profound questions and lessons to be sure. But perhaps none is more profound and with more practical life value then the lesson Jim Waterman used to impart to the 1988 graduating class at Oconomowoc High—namely, that repeating is something very difficult to accomplish.
At this same time, then-Laker head coach Pat Riley was making waves throughout the NBA with a guarantee that his team would repeat as champions (This was prior to the era of trash-talking guarantees being issued for everything from making the playoffs to picking up a first down in a preseason game). Riley’s Lakers backed up the guarantee and the rest of sports soon followed. Toronto won back-to-back World Series. Duke cut down the nets at the Final Four in both 1991 & ’92. The 49ers and Cowboys both won consecutive Super Bowls in a six-year span. And Michael Jordan’s Bulls got to the winner’s circle so often, it seemed the season was more a coronation then a confrontation.
But somewhere along the line the message of change and a new era never reached the Skylark Classic. For repeating in this difficult and cut-throat event has been every bit as problematic as Jimmy W warned us it would be back in our youth. The archives of the Skylark are stored back to 2000. Let’s see just how uneasy has been the head that wears the crown.
--Donna Flaherty became known as Skylark Queen Donna for being this event’s only two-time winner. What’s not as well-known is her appalling mediocrity on the out years. She followed up her last title with a #52 showing. And recent years have raised persistent questions as to whether the game has passed her by. She’s only placed in the Top 40 one time in the past six tournaments. But she has this to hang her hat on—her fourth-place finish in 2001 was the second-highest showing ever by a former champion. So combined with her two championships, she holds both the #1 and #2 slots in the category of past performance after a title. But even she hasn’t solved the riddle of how to win the immediate year after. And if her recent poll numbers don’t improve, the voters may be loathe to give her another chance to try.
--Pam Rapsard won the keys to the kingdom—or the Skylark anyway—back in 2001, but fell back to 46th the following year, and other then a 12th place effort in ’03, has had a difficult time duplicating the magic. The past two tournaments have been particularly tough on her. But hope is on the way—Pam’s three kids are being raised to be good and dutiful Skylark participants, so the hallowed vehicle may one day make it back to the Rapsard driveway.
--Tom Bezoenik won the 2002 title in such grand fashion that it was all wrapped up before Monday night even tipped. But the fall has been equally dramatic. The ensuing year saw him only beat out three dummy contestants, and an 86th place showing in 2004 persuaded him to take a year’s sabbatical. After spending that year on retreat with monks in the mountains, Tom came back rejuvenated and posted a strong #15 ranking in ’06. He apparently knows a good tactic when he sees one, as he was AWOL last year. We know to keep an eye on him if his name appears on the draw sheet this March.
--Saber Zalewski’s 2003 victory lap was followed by a #75 finish a year later. Two years later, he did Tom one better. Dead last, including the dummy picks. He took a page out of Tom’s playbook and took a year off to refocus.
--The mysterious “Potus” won it all in 2005, but dropped to 63rd and from there to #109. His rankings have gone the same way of the approval ratings of the real Potus (the Secret Service name for the president).
--Rich Shovick scaled the heights of glory along with the Florida Gators in 2006. Unlike the Gators, he wasn’t back for more a year later. Rich clocked in at #87 last season.
--So who did the best in the first year post-championship? This one’s heading to the courts to the settle, as Steve Rhoads (2000) and Dale Buss (2004) are each staking their claim. Steve’s #20 ranking in ’01 is technically the highest position. But that was in a field of only sixty-nine entrants. In 2005, Dale put up a #25 finish in a field of 103, a stronger proportional finish. This debate will be settled at the convention. Dale seems to have the stronger argument, but Steve’s role as head of the party may result in superdelegates tilting the honor his way. You be the judge.
--2006 was a particularly brutal year to be a former champion. Saber finished last, marking him the only person in history to scale both ends of the spectrum. More amazingly, Dale was second-last. What are the odds that two former winners would have the lowest two entries? Pam came in at 95th, Steve rolled in at #71 and Skylark Queen Donna’s mediocre #56 looked positively beautiful by comparison.
Critics have said that the inability of champions to produce not only the year after, but even several years after their high moment, shows how much random luck is involved in this. I can’t believe that. There’s too much hard work, from the numerous hours spent watching tape, to scouting to evaluating possible #16 seeds and the likelihood they could wear down a #1 seed just enough to make a difference in the second round. Is it really possible it could all be in vain? Perish the thought. But it does show that in the world of the Skylark, the throne room is a dangerous place to be, as the peasants lie in wait to foment rebellion the moment a crack in the castle appears.