Somewhere on A1A...

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Middle School Sports

I had an experience last night at a Middle School Football game that, at the same time, scared me and gave me great hope.

Working the first down chains for the game gave me the opportunity to mingle with the visiting team’s players and coaches. I had a front row seat both to the game and to the sideline workings of the opposing team.

For context you need to know my children attend a well-respected Private School which has student boarders from all over the world. The Middle School, which at one time was a Girls Boarding/Finishing School, has its own little campus. The School’s Athletic program and reputation is equal to its Academics. It’s a small school with under 2000 students enrolled in pre-K through 12. For athletics it’s a class 2A school, (the state’s largest is 6A).

The Middle School (6-8) has under 250 students, and plays in a Public School League against schools with almost 5-10 times the enrollment. Still football is a no cut sport, only 7th and 8th graders can play, and they field a football team of 67 players, well over half of which have never played football. The teams they play are almost always bigger, faster and more experienced… even older. Last night was no different.

The visiting team was late to the game last night, having been taken to the main campus, not realizing that the Middle School campus was 20 minutes across town. They ran off the bus, had 10-15 minutes to warm-up and then took the sideline for the coin-toss and kick-off. Standing in the middle of them while they sized up their opponents and listening to the talk was, scary, upsetting and started to anger me.

The laughing about the size of the kids, I could take, the derisive remarks about the spoiled rich kids I could slough off. (certainly there are a few but as with most things it’s greatly exaggerated.) But what really upset me was one conversation about the kids being a bunch of little racists, about the school being a racist school. Nothing could be further from the truth. One quote: “ Let’s kill these racist assholes, they don’t have any blacks on their team. Fuck ‘em, Fuck ‘em up”

More context: the host team does have a few black players, only 2 less than the visiting team had as a matter of fact. The host team also is at least as diverse ethnically, if not by income of the parents. The visiting team was not from one of the city’s poor or disadvantaged districts. At least a few of the parents of the visiting team could well afford the tuition and are friends of some of the private school parents. The problem was purely one of perception… perception and stereotype. The hatred in the comment was upsetting.

The fact that these 7th and 8th grade kids were certain that private schools are racist was alarming… at least at first. What are those kids being taught at home… at school?

That one of their coaches was also alarmed and quickly stepped in to add a dose of reality to their world was very encouraging. He got the kids attention and jokingly, but forcefully, told them that statement might just be one of the stupidest things he’s ever heard. The coach asked them why they thought that, he listened to their stammering responses and then challenged them to open their eyes and minds and to think before they spoke.

I doubt he changed any minds on the spot, but he quickly identified and confronted a problem that he could have easily ignored. He could have just as easily contributed to the misperception by affirming the comments. He didn’t, he offered a different perception and offered his credibility as a man they respected to try to show those young minds something they would have otherwise ignored.

It wasn’t a major incident, but it affected me. It was a scary reminder of the ignorance that fills the world and causes so many problems. But it was also a reminder of the hope that comes from good people doing great jobs with few thanks from rest of us. That 8th grade science teacher won’t get the recognition he deserves, he won’t be paid anything near what his contribution is worth. The football players he’s coaching and molding probably idolize athletes who make 10 times more per game than he makes in a year. But he’s still doing a great job. Both the coaches impressed me with the respect and compassion they gave their kids.

The thought of them dealing with countless similar incidents every day depresses me, but I’m glad these guys are there to take it on.

They’re under-paid and under-recognized for the positive impact they’re making as coaches and teachers. The extra sacrifice they make as a coaches will be almost entirely ignored. It’s a shame. Maybe by knowing that a stranger noticed and valued their efforts they’ll be encouraged to keep on. Maybe my letter to their principal will brighten their day.

I wish I could do more.
Btw: the host team beat the bigger faster kids 38-14. and . I’m looking forward to working the chains for the rest of the home games.


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