The Time I Didn’t Really Win Color War (Now You Know)

A few years ago, a friend nostalgically recalled how jealous she’d been when I was color war captain in 12th grade.

I laughed.

I’d never been color war captain. The thought was absurd. Color war is something schools do for students who are not so academically inclined, so that they too have a chance to shine. That wasn’t me. I shone academically, and had nothing to contribute to color war except as a common grunt, cutting things out of colored paper under the command of a Creative or Artistic Person.

I had, in 7th and 9th grade, made a couple of abortive attempts to participate and then gave up. Instead of cutting out colored paper for my team as a common grunt, I became “captain” of the resistance — or, anyway, the four or so friends slouching in the back of the room during team presentations with arms crossed, refusing to participate.

One year, the school had four teams named after the “four elements:” earth, air, fire, and water. My back-of-the-room band discovered that we had representatives from every team except team Ruach. Immediately, I dubbed us Team Golem. We drew up a banner, made the Gingerbread Man our mascot, and wrote a cheer and theme song that consisted of absolute, beautiful, silence.

That was me at color war. Nobody sane would ever consider me captain material.

But my friend insisted. She told me about working on the banner in the airshaft until the last minute and how it was still wet when we carried it in. And the dvar Torah. And the lunch sale…

The last one rang a bell. Slowly, as if from behind a dam, the memories trickled back. I had indeed, through some bizarre calculation of the hanhala, been a color war captain in 12th grade. Understandably, when they called my name as captain, my third reaction (after bemusement and denial) was consternation: I had no idea what color war consisted of.

Luckily, lots of other people did. I was bombarded by students asking to do the cheer, the dance, the theme song, the… “Yes, sure, you can be in charge,” I said agreeably to everyone. “No, you don’t have to run everything past me for approval. I trust you.”

Our principal did not like color war. It was bittul Torah, for starters. It was expensive, secondly. And she wasn’t sure it actually built achdus or made anyone happier. But she grudgingly permitted it year after year on behalf of those non-academically-inclined students. Meaning, she begrudged it every minute and every penny.

The year I was captain they dealt with this grudging by limiting it to a single day event, and by coming up with a new team requirement: Lunch Sale!

Each team had to set up a food sale during lunch, and their net earnings would be added to their score.

Songs, dances, and artistry weren’t really my thing. But one thing I did know: the market sector for lunch in Bais Yaakov. The other team baked cookies and brought in bagels. I asked my volunteers to make elaborate salads, including the one with candied nuts and mango.

We raked it in.

And we squeaked through to a win on those points alone.

The team celebrated. I breathed a sigh of relief. The teachers ushered us back to class. Then, the student who made the candied-nuts salad handed over her receipt for reimbursement.

I brought it to the office.

The secretary looked at it. She did math in her head.

“This amount has to be taken off your score, you know,” she said. “And that means you’re not the winner any more.”

“Oh,” I said. We stared at each other for a minute.

“Just don’t tell anyone,” she said, crumbling up the receipt and handing me the cash.

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The Time I Didn’t Really Win Color War (Now You Know)

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