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Fifty Nifty United States
by

Although I'm competitive by nature, I was always in the shallow end of the talent pool when it came to non-academic scholastic activities. I attempted to play an instrument in middle school band. While I did manage to achieve second seat as bass clarinet, there were only two of us. Senior year in high school, I started out ranked 3rd on our varsity tennis team and ended my career at 10th of 12 players. There was, however, one bright exception to my extracurricular career: chorus.

In fourth grade, my good buddy Matt encouraged me to join chorus, which practiced after school a few times a week. I was just young enough not to be too embarrassed or have any better excuse, like girls, smoking or Dungeons & Dragons. We regularly practiced a variety of melodies and show tunes, ranging from "The Little Brown Jug" to "It's Not Easy Being Green (from The Muppets Movie)." One tune I was particularly proud of was "Fifty Nifty United States."

In this timeless classic, the chorus extols the virtues of knowing each of the 50 United States alphabetically by name. The regular repetition resulted in a permanent copy etched into my cerebral cortex and will likely end up on my tombstone: Kent knew Fifty Nifty by heart.

While it was only moderately cool to have this song bouncing around my head in elementary school, it did come in handy only two years later in middle school U.S. History class. One day in class, the teacher touched on states' rights as they related to the federal government. I piped up that I could recite all 50 states in less than 30 seconds, alphabetically. After the jokes and ensuing laughter died down, my teacher looked me over a few times and said, "If you can name all 50 states, I'll give you 5 extra credit points."

Apparently, my teacher was not aware of Fifty Nifty. There was a quiet buzz in the class while I thought it over. I could use 5 extra credit points, which would be enough to bring my most recent test score up to an A-. "Got a stopwatch handy?" I replied. My teacher looked down at the Timex on his hand and nodded. "You've got 30 seconds. On my mark . Go!"

The class was dead quite as I began rattling off the 50 states in rapid succession. I used every available brain cell to keep from singing out the chorus line in the song. Less than 25 seconds later, I ended the tirade with "Wyoming" and a deep breath. I'd just earned 5 points and a smattering of applause from my unwashed classmates, who were too cool to take chorus in middle school.

Over the years, I've won my share of drinks from bar bets, but I've yet to relive the glory of 6th grade History class. I will keep looking for the next opportunity, which may be an appearance on Jeopardy! or some new reality TV show where contestants have to name all fifty states to get the immunity troll doll. I can see it now - Survivor: American History.