American society has come a long way, making huge leaps in technology, medicine and education in the past 50 years.
We can communicate easily and instantly with just about anyone in the world; we are finding cures for diseases that once were fatal; and we have improved educational opportunities for all. And yet, we are still rendered almost defenseless against flood waters, raging fires and prejudice.
We are working on controlling the devastation of water and fire as we add to our knowledge after each catastrophe, but our ability to learn from past experiences in regard to prejudice eludes us. We continue to struggle with “man’s inhumanity to man.”
In the end, there was one soccer team who scored more goals. However, it was every student and citizen of both school communities who won a battle, not the war, against prejudice that night.
Prejudice rears its ugly head everywhere both subtly and blatantly. When it is blatant, we should be grateful because it is then that we are not be able to walk around the monster.
To bring this philosophical reflection into focus in current times, let us look at a school environment probably no more than 20 miles from where you are reading this. I would like to share a true story of the good and the bad of a sporting event involving two school districts, two boys’ soccer teams and two coaches. Names are purposely left out because this is not a unique story; it is instead a universal tale repeated often in different places with different players.
It was an end-of-the-season game with much at stake. Both teams were highly skilled and well prepared to face this big game. Each team had worked hard toward the same goal and had played well. It was right that they both ended up as contenders in this important matchup. The players on both teams were as psyched as they were confident, and they looked forward to the match that would make one team the winner. Their attitude toward preparation for the big game exalted everything good about sportsmanship and athletics.
A member of one of the soccer teams by chance learned of the courageous battle a student from the other team’s school was waging against cancer. A young woman, also an athlete, had been sidelined by her illness. The young man from the competitive school was moved into action when he learned of the young woman’s situation. He wanted to do something to help.
His team would be hosting her school’s boys’ soccer team in a few days. He contacted people and set up a vehicle for collecting donations to aid the student in need. Before lunch on that particular school day, the specifics of the good deed were in place and ready to go on game day.
If only the story ended here, it would have been a simple and reassuring testament to our student athletes. Sadly, the story continues, and after lunch on that same school day, a prejudicial rant filled with slurs against a few players of one team had been posted on Facebook by the other soccer team’s coach. The coach’s post on Facebook was in the form of a list, one disgusting insult after another. The young man who had spearheaded the donation collection was on that list.
Now if you were asked to project what happened next, you would probably suspect that there would be tension and trouble ahead in both school districts. Well, the best part of sharing this story is that those same conscientious, sportsmanlike athletes, as well as the school leaders from both schools, decided they would not be defined by one ignorant adult. The school district leaders came together and in a common bond of doing right, acted immediately in a manner affirming the values of their respective school communities. The offending coach was fired, there was a heartfelt apology extended, and the game was played on schedule.
The match was played with impeccable sportsmanlike conduct; the good deed to aid a student in need was carried out as planned; and in the end, there was one soccer team who scored more goals. However, it was every student and citizen of both school communities who won a battle, not the war, against prejudice that night.
The story could end here, but it doesn’t. As serendipity would have it, the team and its coach who had demonstrated extraordinary grace under pressure, went on to win the New York State Championship a month later. Congratulations to them; they know who they are!
Felicia Bordick and her colleagues, Carol Smith and Joyce Thomas, are authors of “Kitchen Table Time: Recipes for School Success.” Feel free to contact Bordick with comments, questions or suggestions at [email protected]