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As I wandered lost in a maze of mile-long corridors, I was afraid and unsure I’d ever escape to the semi-familiar place I was hoping would feel like home. Or maybe I could just go to my actual home. Anywhere else would be fine. Anywhere with a familiar face.

I had never felt more alone. I had never been more alone. Getting lost on the second day of Kindergarten was a rude awakening to the real-world, but man have I come a long way since.

As the world celebrated award season in sports last week  with the ESPYs, I thought about one of the strangest concepts in both the sports world and the award world: winning Most Improved Player.

“Congratulations! You don’t suck anymore…. or at least not as bad as you did before.”

Are players happy to win this award? Do they feel awkward about it?

No other award in the history of awards requires that you not only be good, but that you also have terrible on your resume. But maybe that’s not so bad. I mean, it’s an award LeBron will never be *good* enough to win.

But what if you could win Most Improved Human?

Maybe it’s the fact that I never was good enough to win awards when I played sports that fuels my desire for sports awards, but if KD can name his mom as the MVP then why can’t there be a Most Improved Human award?

If such an award ever did come about, I feel like I’ve got a real shot. So here’s my case for Most Improved Human:

My first day of Kindergarten was just as bad if not worse than the second day. In the first five years of my life, I had never been away from my parents longer than a sleepover at Grandma’s house, so pairing my first day of school with my first minutes of not being around a direct relative maybe wasn’t a good start. I cried nearly all day, cried during nap time until the teacher rocked me to sleep and tried to sit at the wrong lunch table because the cartoons showed kids sitting wherever they wanted during lunch at their schools so I figured that’s how it was. Most embarrassingly, I was too afraid to ask where the bathrooms were so I just decided to tough it out. Sadly, toughing it out doesn’t always work, causing my first day to “stink” even more.

But somehow, this didn’t communicate my failures well enough to my mom, who decided I was ready to be let out at the parent drop off line.

I wandered the halls alone until some lady finally realized I was the only kid in the entire school that wasn’t in a classroom. My innocent Kindergarten-self trusted this lady with my life, not knowing who she was or if she even worked at the school. She was just an adult and, for the most part, adults had been helpful so far in my life. I patiently waited as she waddled into the bathroom. Moments later she waddled back out and escorted me to my class. I still don’t know who she was, but I know that she helped me that day and my dad walked me to the door of my classroom from Day 3 until my sister started Kindergarten four years later.

In the spring, I started T-Ball. At five years old, I thought the most efficient way to bat was spinning my entire body in circles with the bat outstretched until you eventually knocked it off the tee or fell over from dizziness.

I started cussing in the 3rd grade, but stopped after one of my friends told on me. I don’t think my teacher believed him, but just the thought of her telling my dad scared the words out of my vocabulary.

5th grade Jake once again caused a stir, transitioning from the kid who hugged his teacher at the end of every day the year before, into the class clown, who read aloud with his book upside-down and constantly sassed the teacher. My willingness to do anything for a laugh almost cost me my spot on the class field trip. But 5th grade was also a milestone, as I finally learned how to tie my shoes.

Fast-forwarding to Most Improved Jake:

I still get lost occasionally, but now I rely on GPS to save the day instead of random ladies who may or may not have my best interest in mind. I still don’t like to ask where bathrooms are, but I know how to read signs and have become pretty good with the layouts of restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores. I’m really good at sleeping alone and I cry about it much less often than five-year-old me did. And while I still live with my parents, I have survived three out-of-state trips without a relative so there’s still hope of beating the separation anxiety that made Kindergarten so hard.

I never became good at baseball, but in my two game slow pitch softball career I’ve been a decent run contributor and still haven’t struck out.

I still try not to cuss, mostly because I’m still afraid my parents will find out. And I’ve gotten much better about insulting figures of authority (at least to their faces).

One could argue I’m approaching average, able to read, drive, and even vote. Maybe I’ve surpassed my potential. I always put the toilet seat back down, I shower daily, and I occasionally think up a clever Instagram caption.

I even put in nearly two and a half years of service as a cashier at Walmart, enduring every “Are you Jake from State Farm” and complaints about how cold items were bagged with a smile on my face.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I don’t have a chance for Most Valuable Human, but this mediocre human has sure come a long way.

Jake Cantrell

11 in a 21-year old body with an 81-year old soul. Just trying to follow God, wear neat socks and be 1 percent less worse than yesterday."

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