Ann Bednarski: Taking a chance pays off in the end

Two events are in progress in Carson City: Campaigning for an election and the Ultimate Gambler Challenge. I once actively participated in both.

One Friday evening in late September 2005, a new friend and I were out for dinner at a new casino in town. I wanted to help her acclimate to our town by sharing all the interesting things I had learned in the 10 years I had lived here.

We had a long, leisurely dinner, leaving the restaurant around 10 p.m. At the cashier's desk, taped right next to the register was a flier. The first line read: "One Person is Guaranteed to Win $10,000!" I looked at her and said simply, "Do you have any idea what $10,000 would do to my life, particularly now?" She did.

We asked a few questions about the Ultimate Gambler Challenge. Its finale was on Nevada Day weekend 2005. The cashier said the opportunity to become an early bird entrant would expire in a few minutes. It cost $10 to enter this contest. On a whim, a spur-of-the-moment decision, I paid the entry fee. So did my friend.

This contest required going to the seven participating casinos, playing whatever game they had designated for the challenge: poker, blackjack, keno or slot games. Sixty-four finalists would participate in the finale based on cumulative scores from the casinos, high score for each casino, early bird entrants, and a wild card.

My score was terribly low. But I was nosy and attended the finale anyway. Sixty-three finalists were announced. The 64th person was not there, and I was called next. I was the wild card 64th person chosen.

I won the Ultimate Gambler Challenge - $10,000!

That lucrative turn of fate gave me the courage and incentive to enter something not at all whimsical and far more important to me than winning money.

A few months later, I was seriously motivated to take on a real challenge and entered the race for the school board trustee position.

For years, I had regularly attended Carson City School Board meetings, volunteered at a school, presented forums on education issues, and met with many students, parents and teachers.

Not a politician but an education advocate, I learned how difficult it is for an average citizen to enter politics. My efforts and drive to succeed were exhilarating. Winning that election was a goal that consumed most of my time.

I was qualified and excited and wanted Carson City students to become educated and prepared for life's opportunities. The race would not be a stepping stone to higher office, or to become an advocate for the union. It was 100 percent to improve the quality of education for our students within the bureaucracy.

Encouragement and help from friends and strangers was an overwhelming, welcome surprise. They found ways to get my name on signs and brochures and attend events.

I interviewed more than 700 students, most of them from Carson City. Their valuable input was used to prepare a door hanger about our schools. I remember the hours and hours to prepare this hanger to communicate the opinions of students. Most homes in Carson had one on their door before the election to help me have a voice on the Carson City School Board of Trustees.

We had huge flea markets on two weekends in the old Walmart store. Another supporter produced and donated several yard signs.

The enthusiasm of people seeing the need to improve scholastics and believing in my ability to represent them on the board made me optimistic, excited and ... exhausted, the happy kind.

I lost this election to the incumbent. However, my passion for quality education simply grew stronger.

Comparing these two experiences, minimal effort was required for the Ultimate Gambler Challenge. I was lucky: to enter it, to attend the finale, and by a quirk of fate to win $10,000.

Conversely, the effort, excitement and enthusiasm I experienced when campaigning for public office required qualifications, experience, commitment and promise.

Support from the people of Carson City was outstanding.

The opportunities I had to speak - to groups, willing students about their own schooling, and debate issues - were good for all of us.

Winning of the first Ultimate Gambler Challenge pales in comparison to my challenge and desire to hold a public office. Our schools remain less than stellar.

This year's Ultimate Gambler Challenge is under way. Someone will win. It happens every year.

The weakness exists in our political system. We the people must improve our own bureaucracy, starting at the ballot box.

• Ann Bednarski of Carson City is a career educator and journalist.


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