For parents, the prize in Monday's lottery at La Mesa Junior High School was a chance to send their children to a school that requires students to wear uniforms.
A total of 149 applied to have their children transferred to La Mesa, which has only about 40 spaces available for transfers. The relatively new school has a reputation for having fewer disciplinary problems than others in the district, and some parents attribute this, in part, to its being the only public school in the area with the uniform policy.
District officials, never faced with a surplus of transfer requests, decided the fairest way to decide was by lottery.
In the school's library, about a dozen parents were present for the 45-minute drawing. They participated by pulling numbers from a plastic punch bowl passed around the room.
The first one was drawn by Steve Herr, there in hopes that his 11-year-old son would go to La Mesa. He drew the name of sixth-grade student Jennifer Basse.
Herr started writing down the numbers as they were drawn. On the fifth draw, parent Lisa LeMay pulled out the number of the woman sitting next to her, Laura Shay of Canyon Country, whose 12-year-old son, Kevin, is now all but assured of enrollment at La Mesa.
"I can't believe it!" a flushed Shay said to LeMay. "Thank you."
A few parents responded with glee as their children's names were called early. But most who were present for the drawing grew more despondent the longer they went without hearing their children's names.
Herr kept writing down numbers, wincing as each was called. One woman, whose daughter dropped from 72nd place to 147th because of confusion about which number she had, left the meeting in tears.
LeMay's daughter finally was called 112th out of the 149 spots.
"My daughter has terrible luck," she said afterward. "She flips coins with her sister to see what movie they're going to watch and she loses every time."
Long past the point of hope, Herr kept writing down numbers. And wincing.
"I have to go home and tell my wife this," he said. "Now I want to be the last one so I can tell my wife there's no chance whatsoever."
Herr almost got his wish. His son was number 146.
By then, he could do little but accept the results with good humor.
"Maybe," he said, "they'll turn the list upside down."