Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sticks and Stones

Before I became a vice principal, conflict made me extremely uncomfortable.  One of the times I remember feeling most scared in my whole life was at the roller rink when I was in fourth grade.  A fight broke out near the bathrooms and I cowered in a stall for a very long time. After that, I meekly tiptoed away from shouting, arguing, and confrontation.  I married a non-yeller on purpose. 

The first time an angry parent directed her furor at me the vice principal, I cried.  I am an easy crier, I will admit, but you might have cried too under these circumstances.  Some blows are low, below the belt, and some barely skim the top of your head.  This one cut deep.  But I can look back now and be grateful for the experience.  Under similar circumstances these days, I would hang tough. 

Part of my job is dealing with people.  I don't love that verb, "dealing"--it's like "tolerance"--not quite all the way to being real with other humans.  Most of my job, thankfully, is about "supporting," "guiding," "assisting," "empowering," and "reassuring."  Nevertheless, I have to deal with some people from time to time.  I am happy to report that most of them are strangers.  This is reassuring because if we can at least count on the people who know one another to respect one another...that's good.  That's a start. 

Last night a college sophomore tried to fight me.  I don't think I am exaggerating here, because he also nearly got into a fight with an innocent parent spectator at last night's championship game.  He was an alumnus and fan from The Other Team, The Rival Team.  The Team We Love to Hate. 

This contest goes back so far I sheepishly compare it to the Yale-Harvard rivalry:  one in which we ultimately (secretly, inwardly) concede grudging respect for the other institution.  There's a reason we go up against one another, and it's that we're both awesome at the same things, which are academics, and that particular sport which fuels the rivalry. 

So here we were at the championship game.  Expecting rain and dressing like someone almost on vacation, I sported fleece in our school's color, sweats, and a black wool hat acquired circa 1991.  The final game is an annual event between our high schools, so we could expect light-hearted taunting from either side.  Anticipating such, our Athletic Director and I positioned ourselves in the student cheering section. This year our crowd came somewhat subdued--no students in full green body paint, no signs taunting the refs or the private-school fans from the other side. 

But about one minute into the game a rival fan started taking on our section.  He wasn't outrageous, just obnoxious, turning to our students to comment loudly on every play.  When he began heckling our coach, though, I decided he could use a little intervention. 

"Hey, how about focusing on cheering for your team, and leave our coach alone?  This is going to be a great game, and we all want to enjoy it." 

He quickly stood up and over me, exerting his rights as a fan to say and do whatever he liked.  Who was I, anyway?  I didn't assert my office; I wasn't his vice principal, after all, and I am not, conveniently, Vice Principal of the World (frankly, I don't think my heart could take it; my hat is off to cops who deal with anonymous irrational people on a daily basis).  The Athletic Director and I plunked ourselves down at the edge of our section, right across the narrow aisle from our rivals and his seat, while he got a talking-to from an official.  We were now practically sitting next to each other, he and I, much to his chagrin. 

He continued to challenge our crowd, but it wasn't until he took me on personally that he earned his partial ejection.  While talking to my neighbor, I absentmindedly gave a few claps after a call against our side.  He stood above me me to ridicule my mistake, asking me if I understood what a five-yard penalty was, and was I stupid, etc.  I just shook my head ruefully and noted that his attention was misdirected and that he was making a fool of himself.  He didn't stop berating me; I had to tell him to back up and take his hands off of me at one point.  A league official finally intervened and removed him to an area behind the players. 

Our students, I am proud to say, had stayed classy, refusing to take his bait while his team continued to score against us.  I was able to sit quietly for the remainder of the game, taking deep breaths to compose myself and noting that my heartrate and blood pressure were coming down from the tenth floor.  It's scary when someone big gets in your face.  Someone college-sophomore-athlete big. 

When the game was over, he came back through our crowd en route to the exit.  He attempted to rile up one of our alums as he passed and I interceded just in time, urging him to move along.  He was none too happy to see me, offering a few more shots, including his parting one, "Get a new hat."  I should have responded with, "Next time wear a jacket that doesn't have your name on the sleeve, Genius."  I refrained.  Also, I thought of that snappy comeback later. 

We made sure our fans exited without incident, but he did not--he caused a near-fight in the parent section when he started swinging after someone accidentally jostled him.  He had to be escorted out by a cadre of friends and family members.

The Athletic Director and I congratulated and consoled our disappointed second-place players as we handed out medals and wished them a restful break.  One of the coaches came over to thank us.

Appraising my hat, he grinned.  "Thanks for your support tonight, Paddington!"

Moral of this story:  when friends and foes alike agree on the hat, I think it needs to go.  And it's definitely not worth fighting over.


Ms. F said...

I told a senior yesterday that he couldn't leave for open campus during his study hall because he had to attend the school-wide assembly, and he said (from 3 inches away from my face), "What the f***? That's f***ing ridiculous!"

After I asked him to rephrase his comment, and he stormed off (no rephrase), I totally cried in the bathroom. I admire your bravery... :)

Anonymous said...

That must've been some hat to spark such outrage! You think the hat got him going? :)

Mama Deb said...

Dude! I totally would have did well to keep your shit together :)

And I think you should totally wear the hat with your Shania Twain outfit next week just to show them how very confident you are :)

Morgan R said...

i know this rivaly all too well... and for some reason i am just not surprised this happend. islander pride forever, and ever.