By Michael Benjamin
Years ago, as a voluntary Spanish teacher at a certain city school I had cause to upbraid
one of my students that was talking incessantly while I was teaching. He complied briefly but as soon as I turned to write on the blackboard he resumed his garrulous feat. I asked him to stand in a corner until I found the time to deal with him but he not only refused to comply but arrogantly confronted me as though willing a fight.
I left the classroom but returned shortly afterwards to inform the students that I was not going to resume teaching until the student in question obeyed my instruction. The ploy worked and those students took up my cause, berating the errant student until, feeling pressured, he complied.
Shortly after classes were dismissed, I called the errant fellow and quite jokingly remarked, “Buddy, I have no intention of marching you to the headmistress’ office so I’ll make you an offer; let us go to the nearest ball field and sort this matter out in a fistfight and the one that wins is the future boss of the classroom.” He grumbled unintelligibly but did not take up the offer.
We then got down into an informal gaff as I attempted to ascertain the true cause of his arrogance. “But Sir,” he replied to one of my questions, “you had your days of school pranks and you were not a bright boy.”
I was taken aback as I was certain that I had left school long before this lad was even a conception and wondered aloud at his deduction.
Naturally, I dug deeper only to find out that his mother and I had attended North Ruimveldt Multilateral School around the same era. I also found out that it was she that had fed her child such jargon. ‘That may be true buddy,” I remember informing him, “But I was well schooled and what I have forgotten, you have not yet learned.”
To condense my tale; I visited the home quite unexpectedly and had a healthy discussion with his mother, carefully omitting what her child had earlier told me. We were able to arrive at a formula to assist her son. He eventually passed his Spanish test with flying colours.
Now, you may ask, how did such a recitation wend its way into the sports pages and what is the connection? Simple! I saw that child as a replica of me during childhood. As Guyanese would say, ‘fight was my middle name.’ At an impressionable age and bursting with energy, fighting was my most practical means of conflict resolution.
I still remember that day when my classmate, the late Cedric Brusche, had had a heated quarrel during school hours and decided to engage in our method of conflict resolution when school was dismissed. We elected to go to a ball field some distance away from school so as not to attract administrative punishment. We reasoned that we were in our private time and therefore, it was no business of the school administration if we chose to settle our differences in such an unorthodox way. We were heading to the Tucville playfield less than a mile away with a large group of students in tow, eager to witness the slugfest.
I remember that as we were going to the fight venue some distance from the school, a man on a Raleigh cycle, who later introduced himself as Emmille Amsterdam, intercepted and tactfully dissuaded us from the imminent clash of fists.
It was not easy for him as I remember giving him the proverbial ‘length of my tongue.’ Despite my arrogance, he persisted and somehow won my confidence. He then suggested that I had the ‘shape’ of a boxer and advised that I seek refuge in the sport even if to ‘blow off some steam.’
That statement resonated but it was not until about one year later that I met former British Empire boxing contender, Cliff Anderson. He was a dumpy fellow with the most cheerful of dispositions and he arrived at ‘Multi’ with a duffel bag laden with gloves, headgears, skipping ropes and other boxing apparel, slung over his shoulders.
Cliff was then attached to the National Sports Development Council (NSDC) and formed a cadre of coaches of numerous disciplines that were dispatched to the various schools to teach interested boys the intricacies of sports; he introduced me to the art of the fistic sport.
Recently, I engaged my boxing contemporaries, now into administration of the sport, in discussions pertaining to a reintroduction of the fistic sport on the schools’ curriculum. I also engaged the school’s administration and later broached the topic with Chief Education Officer, Olato Sam. The respective reactions were mixed; the coaches were enthusiastic, the school administration was optimistic and Mr. Sam was apprehensive.
Children, like adults, will experience anxiety symptoms and seek redress through unorthodox means. Children, like adults, will encounter mood swings. Therefore, children, maybe, even more than adults, need to find ways of utilizing that excess energy. To deprive them of that opportunity to express themselves may be counterproductive.
Boxing is not just fight; it is an art, it is sweet science but most importantly, it is a microcosm of life. The top brass at the Ministry of Education should appreciate this fact and find ways of working with the executive of the Guyana Boxing Association in finding a common ground in (re) introducing the sport into the school curriculum.
That day, as I trooped to the Tucville playfield to engage my classmate proved to be the last time I traded punches outside of the law. I went on to perfect the art of the sport and today can attest to the fact that it has served me well. Boxing is way but disciplined war. To this day, the sport was, and still is my life and I am none the worse for my experience—neither physically nor mentally.
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