Life is full of challenges. But in this case, we're talking about players who "challenge" the player (or two) sitting ahead of them in their section in band.
Some time after students have been placed in their initial chair order, the director will place a challenge sign-up sheet in the band room. Students wishing to challenge the two players sitting immediately ahead of them in their section may sign up to do so. Challenge music will be handed out a few days later, and students have about a week to learn it.
During the challenge session, the players competing against each other will take turns playing their particular challenge piece. They are out of sight of the band, while their music is displayed on a screen for all to see. After all three (or sometimes four) players have finished, the class will discuss the merits of each performance and rank the players in order. They emerge from hiding in that same order and assume their new positions (if any) in the section. Then another challenge commences in the same fashion until all challenges are finished. Challenges usually take a class period or two to complete.
A player may challenge the person or two sitting immediately ahead of them in their section. If he fails to beat either of them, he may challenge again at a later date. If he fails to beat either one of them a second consecutive time, he may not challenge those players any more until the following school year. (If a player moves ahead of him from behind, he may challenge again, of course.) If he does beat one of them in the competition, however, he may continue to challenge, working his way up the section as far as he can go. Of course, a defeated "challengee" is allowed to challenge as well.
This system, while imperfect, does allow students a chance to improve and move up in a section as his or her musical ability increases. Competition remains friendly, and the goal is to gain understanding of–and freely admit–one's small failures without inferring that it is "the end of the world." Even as a teenager, when public defeat often does seem that way.
The director believes that competition is a valid and worthwhile (and capitalist) way to encourage personal improvement. Each participant should understand, though, that our overall goal is to improve the team. Ol' Pete Carroll has nothing on band directors–except a bank account with a lot more zeros on the end….