Saturday, February 21, 2009

Team spirit, race relationships

My father was an avid Toronto Maple Leaf fan. I recall his consternation night after night as they lost game after game. He would stomp up our stairs, and I knew they had lost again.

This is an old photo of my brother, circa 1950-something...

One year, when the Ottawa Senators were in a race with the Toronto Maple Leafs, I was teaching in an Ottawa school.

It was mayhem. The thing about Ottawa is that many people are from 'away'. That is, born and raised in other cities.

A couple of teachers in the school, avid hockey fans, drummed up much excitement. Unfortunately, they forgot the basic fact that many cheered for other teams.

As the series progressed, things began to get a bit hot. Fans from Toronto had some issues in the Corel Centre, or whatever it is called now!

In our school, one of my students created a small banner and ran through the school yard chanting, "Go, Sens, go!", while other students ran in a mob behind her. It was rather bizarre! One teacher put announcements on about 'our' Ottawa Sens.

The custodian, a total Toronto fan, wore his full get up. He had the shirt, pants, socks, slippers, mug. He had a Leaf towel on his office door. It was a hoot. He and the two young teachers jokingly had a rivalry. Some of the students didn't get the joke, though. They were afraid to let the other kids know they were rooting for the Toronto team in this blatantly Ottawa Sens school.

I deliberately wore a Toronto shirt. I bought it downtown just for the day! My Dad would have been proud. There is a point to this story, though. As I would lead my students to the library, we would pass other students in the hall. Rather than a 'high 5', one students quietly gave me a low 5, as I passed. He was afraid of letting the others know he was a TO fan. I wanted to make a point. I felt very strange wearing the blue in a sea of red. Kids made rude remarks to me, a teacher, as I passed them in the hall. Not fun, but rude and disrespectful remarks - over a game. I was shocked. The rabble-rouser staff who began the whole thing didn't really understand the impact of what they had started. It was very difficult to watch, me an equal opportunity, holistic, integrative teacher who respected her multi-ethnic class of young charges.

I was amazed at the discussion in my class room. I monitored it carefully. Students were vitriolic in their disgust for the others and their teams. The friendly rivalry had gone all wrong. I used it as a teachable moment as we talked about manners, respect, bias and dignity. I had never been in a minority before. It taught me a good lesson, I hope my students learned one, as well.

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