Well, I’m back. Care to hear about what you’ve been missing? Sure you do. This entry is for the BEST competition, and it’s probably long enough. Saturday night and Sunday will be with you shortly. I get the award for Longest Bloody Blog Post. Keep in mind that this is Part I of 2 or 3. Harhar.

Saturday was the JETS competition. I obediently donned my Hockaday uniform, in accordance with previous years, only to arrive a few minutes later at Ashley’s house to find that she was wearing jeans and our JETS shirts. Apparently, Mackenzie had decided that we were going to be more casual this year. Somehow, Tori See and I were the only ones who didn’t get this message. While I thought this was an absolutely stupid decision, I sped back to my house anyway and got jeans for myself, plus several extra uniforms in case I was able to change Mackenzie’s mind. Ashley and I stopped by Chick-Fil-A for breakfast, then went to Hockaday, where we found that the Chick-Fil-A folks hadn’t put my chicken biscuit in the bag, just Ashley’s. With the morning starting on a rather sour note, I returned to Chick-Fil-A, where I received my breakfast bounty.

I was unable to change Mackenzie’s mind, so I glumly changed to my jeans and t-shirt. Then, it was off to UTD for the competition. We had brought all the tools and such to UTD the previous night, so we were ready to go. I hung a poster in the entrance hall, which was unfortunately dwarfed in the presence of elaborate shrines to Austin Academy, Lincoln High School, and several other competing teams. It had never occurred to us to set up a presentation in the halls, so our efforts were hopelessly inadequate. We worked up our driver list (I was #5 out of 5), meaning that I would spot for Sagari drive with Ashley.

And suddenly, there was music.

Austin Academy’s theme this year was “Austin’s Power Team”, leading their thronging preadolescent multitudes to don brightly-colored t-shirts and wave neon, 60’s-style flowers at people. Their “mascot” was a boy in a blue suit, glasses, and a ruffled collar. Their band and boom boxes alternately blasted a certain irritating cinematic theme incessantly. Yeah, baby, yeah. The competition had arrived. Now, it’s no secret that most teams believe Austin Academy’s five engineers and parental supervisors do most of (if not all) the work. It may be true that an infinite number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of typewriters can eventually churn out the complete works of William Shakespeare, I cannot believe that a squad of two dozen-some middle schoolers can craft a machine of such impressive caliber in only six weeks.

Resigning to the fact that we weren’t going to beat Austin Academy, we prepared to compete. To my surprise, I spotted for our first match. Unfortunately, our swivel wheel caught on the ramp and we were unable to traverse the field, so instead, on my urging, Sagari positioned the robot so that none of the other robots could get back across, leaving them unable to score as well. Once the round was over, we diagnosed and fixed the problem, and all was well. Hurrah.

The game went on, relatively uneventfully. When it was my turn to drive, I had quite a bit of fun un-switching rival teams’ switches, robbing them of points. When Sagari drove again and I spotted, I earned the Judges’ distinction as “Most Enthusiastic Spotter” as I jumped wildly around my square, trying to get messages across to Sagari as emphatically as possible. Mackenzie tells me that my teammates got some great pictures.

And then, finally, we reached our last match before Finals. The morning rounds are merely for seating, and the top 8 teams go on to compete in a set of six games that determine who gets the glory. We had been holding on to 8th place throughout most of the morning, so we were fairly nervous. Fortunately, at the helm was Mackenzie Miller, one of our best drivers, so we weren’t as worried. Our confidence was restored when one girl calculated that we only had to flip a switch (which we had accomplished in nearly every round) and we would be guaranteed a spot in the Finals. Confident and cool, Mackenzie began our next round. She easily flipped the switch, to the joy of our team, then snatched up the Bumble Ball. She traversed the ramp again, and went to deposit the Bumble Ball in its corrall. But then, with mounting horror, we saw what Mackenzie failed to notice. We were the Green team in that round, and she had scored for the Blue team. It was an easy mistake to make, considering the similarity of the paint colors, but it was nevertheless a fatal one. With sinking hearts, we watched Waxahachie overtake our tentative grip on 8th place, thanks to our 50 points raising their point total average. We were out.

Some of the judges came to our table during the interim between Seating and Finals to ask us how we felt. Most of us admitted feelings of resigned disappointment, but happiness at doing so well, considering our abyssmal performance last year. Only Marcelina had the guts to say how she truly felt: “pissed off”. The judges eventually left to talk to other schools as we started to generally pack up. But then, to our surprise, one of the judges returned to our table. “I don’t know how much you paid them,” the official said, “but Waxahachie is withdrawing. You’re back in the finals.”

There was a moment of stunned silence as this sunk in. Then we all started screaming and jumping for joy. I actually burst into PMS-ridden tears of happiness, my faith in humanity restored. From that moment on, whenever we saw a Waxahachie student, all JETS members either hugged him/her or elaborately pantomimed her undying love for their school.

We performed admirably enough in the finals — we finished in 5th place, which was impressive compared to last year, in which we were awarded 2nd to last simply due to alphabetical order. And now that the games were over, my real competition began: the BEST award. This is what I’d been working on for the last five weeks. Not the robot, the Notebook. The Notebook was my baby. The Notebook was, in our team’s opinion, one of the most gorgeous binders BEST had ever seen. I don’t mean to brag, I’m simply stating popular opinion. This notebook would be our ticket to success. The game bosses started by announcing the winners of the Game award, then the individual awards for elegance, sportsmanship, etc. Then, the BEST award.

I started shaking. Several of the girls rubbed life back into my hands as I tilted my face skyward in silent prayer. As the official slowly read the school names out, starting with #6, my heart leapt with every place he did not bequeath to “Hockaday!”. By the time he got to #4, I had to sit down, as I felt faint. My arms and belly were tingly and numb. Then, #3 went to Austin Academy. “We’re going to state!” I hissed deliriously to Sagari, convinced beyond question that Hockaday was then one of the Top 2. #2: Not Hockaday. I started twitching. #1: Not Hockaday.

I choked on air, refusing to believe my ears, ignoring the vision of cheering throngs of students from the winning school taking the field to accept their trophy. My eyes stung. I clenched my teeth as I fought back the malicious rage that suddenly coursed through my numbed body. “Not even sixth place!” I growled, “Not even SIXTH PLACE!”

My team members looked at each other uncertainly. They were all shocked and disappointed by the result, but they knew how much obsessive work I had put into the notebook. Sagari held me as I broke down in racking sobs.

It had been a very emotional day, to say the least. It didn’t help that I was PMSing or overstressed or merely fed up from a lousy morning. Looking back, I wonder how unnerved my friends must have felt, seeing a girl who never cries break down in tears twice in one day. I have to say, though, things got much better when I finally pulled myself together. My undying optimistic streak pointed out to me that I wouldn’t have been able to attend the state competition anyway due to it being the performance weekend of Dark of the Moon. Also, this meant that my friends would be able to see the show, plus they would be in town for my birthday, which is the same day. Tori, Sagari, and Mackenzie convinced me that it wasn’t our fault, as we don’t have cheerleaders or a band, and that our notebook was the most gorgeous B.E.S.T. would ever see. By the time the cars were loaded up and we were leaving, I was smiling again. I promised Tori that I’d teach her Photoshop and the ins and outs of the JETS website, and I bequeathed the notebook to the JETS lab for reference for future Secretaries. The judges had no taste, several schools’ names were mud, and life was beautiful again. One blissful week of free afternoons stretched ahead of me. With college essays entering their final polish, my to-do list dwindled to containing little more than the Very Secret Project. Alicey and Monica were online. Life is good.