Comeuppance Served Steaming

Being often beleaguered by a contingent of some of the more raucous boys to accompany them during the after-lunch Recess since my initial appearance on the playing fields, I have come to acquiesce to their strains and participate insomuch as is conducive to my regular duties and responsibilities. Meaning that, if I have the time, I organize and oversee a vigorous game of touch football that usually lasts the entirety of the Recess period – and, I have been told by some of their grateful teachers, it acts as something of a sedative for them during afternoon classes.

One of the curious things that I have noted during each of these occasions are the schoolboy archetypes which have become almost clichd in their regularity. Without digressing into an exposition on all of the various categories and exemplars, let me just say that there is very little fundamental difference between the adolescent boys of my own youth and those I now preside over. The same cliques and the same “survival of the fittest” ethos of exclusion and cruelty.

In both my administration and performance of the competition, I am striving to encourage ardent competition and gracious co-operation. As “all-time Quarterback” I manipulate the outcome to favor the teams which, in my opinion, deserve to win over the team that “should” win. However, sometimes more aggressive tactics are necessary…

There is a boy named “Kyle Smith” who meets the criteria for the cultural stereotypes of “Bully” and “Star Athlete” as well as that of “Class Clown” and “Troublemaker” – a rather volatile mixture, to say the least. Naturally athletic, charismatic, and handsome, he is recklessly insensitive and quick to take advantage of others for his own amusement. Following close at his heels are the usual sampling of cronies, toadies, and sycophants – each possessing different shared aspects and/or inclinations of their leader, giving him an echo chamber of people to laugh with him in one sort of cheeky defiance or another.

It seems that Kyle has taken to trying to disrupt the careful equilibrium I have maintained in these Recess football matches. He will approach the playing field and announce who will be playing on his team against “everyone else” – which, of course, leaves an opponent of less athletic and unpopular kids to serve as quarry for his juvenile malice. Of course, I do not permit this and promptly put him with a group of my own choosing – in the hopes that he might rise above mere derision and become the true leader that I know he could be, beneath the puerile charade that he plays before his peers.

Today, though, I relented to his demand. I allowed him the team of his choosing… with one canard: that I would join the lesser team as its Captain and Quarterback, arrayed against the favored ones.

If this had been an “after-school special” or some sort of cheesy movie-of-the week, perhaps both teams would have battled back and forth in an epic contest that somehow finished with everybody winning and learning something very important about themselves. Life, however, does not operate under such sunny conditions.

My team won. I would say by how much but I kind of lost count when we went up by more than seven touchdowns.

During the onslaught, Kyle became more and more irate – complaining that it was only because I was on the “weaker” team that his squad was losing. To which I would only remind him that I only throw the ball, I did not catch it also – neither did I play an active role on Defense. Eventually he became quietly seething.

When the bell rang the children back to class, Kyle punted the football a good distance away from the playing field – in an obvious tantrum of protest against what had occurred. Intolerant as I am for such displays, especially from boys who are only a hair`s breadth from manhood, I sent him to fetch after the ball while the rest of boys returned to class.

Bringing the football back to me, he again repeated his earlier claim – and this time I agreed with him.

“You`re quite right, Kyle,” I said to him calmly, “strong leadership can make a huge difference in how a team performs. A strong leader can lead by his example and motivate his team to excel.

Today you were beaten, not because of raw athleticism, but by teamwork, cooperation, and discipline – three traits that were missing from your team,” I paused for emphasis: “and three traits that seem to be missing from you.”

His expression betrayed how much my words had struck him, but the exact nature of his feelings were inscrutable to me and he was silent as he walked the rest of the way into the school building.

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