Now I want to tell you a story that involves love that I could definitely feel.
Once while coaching 6th grade soccer, I came up with a game that I thought would be fun. The game was supposed to be a good way to get the blood pumping in the boys and have a little bit of healthy competition. The game was simple. I had the boys, which was about 19 of them, line up on the sideline, and I placed 4 soccer balls about 25 yards away. When I blew the whistle everyone took off for the soccer balls. The first 4 guys who get the balls are out and don’t have to run in the next 25 yard sprint. After the second sprint it became very clear that my “fun” game was anything but. I quickly realized that I had set up a boy, who I will call Bobby, for failure. He was never going to be able to compete with the other guys in the race to the balls. His anguish was clearly displayed on his face as he came in 5 yards behind his peers each time. While trying to think of a way out of the predicament that I put him in without making it look obvious, he and the remaining boys walked back to the line for their third 25 yard run. Bobby was breathing heavy and his eyes were welled up. Still, there was determination on his face, so I blew the whistle, and they all took off again. This time at about 20 feet into the sprint, the boy next to Bobby suddenly “slipped” and fell to the ground. Although the other boy made a “valiant effort” to catch up, Bobby got across the line before him. And believe it or not, Bobby somehow obtained one of the 4 soccer balls! It was weird; the ball just kinda squirted in his direction as he came across the finish from the scrum of boys trying to win the ball. I immediately blew the whistle and ended the game and sent the boys off to the locker room. (Quite frankly, relieved). The first kid who ran to congratulate Bobby was the boy who slipped, and as they disappeared into the field house there was joyful back slapping from the rest of the guys.
I have shared that story a number of times in the years since. I share it because it shows something about the character of that group of guys. It shows kindness, empathy, compassion and a number of other things. But more importantly, it shows the story of those boys, and the love that they have for one another.
Now I will tell you all a secret. Every few weeks, your 8th grade teachers meet to discuss things like upcoming calendar events, middle school or school wide initiatives going on, and a hosts of other matters. We also discuss you boys. You are our favorite subject. We talk about bridges you have made, kayaks you have piloted down the river, papers you’ve written, and math problems you’ve solved. We talk about your amazing feats in athletic competitions and funny incidents during break. We also talk about touching moments where a boy has been kind to another boy or how a group of guys went to their buddy’s cross country race, play, or concert simply to show their support.
Please understand, we are not gossiping about you. We share information with each other so that we get to know you a little better and so we, your teachers and coaches, can build stronger relationships with each of you. We love working with you guys. Our ultimate goal for each and everyone of you when you leave the middle school is that you will know that your teachers love you, that we really know you and your story — not just something about you, but really know you.
I shared the story about Bobby with you to demonstrate that your story is really up to you; we are just the readers. Like any good story, we will discuss it. The truth is, if you want your story to be magnificent, begin by realizing you are the author, and everyday is a new page. So you need to ask yourself; What do I want my individual and class story to be?
Ultimately, everyone’s personal story here starts with some simple rules. It really is the quickest way for someone to see what type of person you are. It’s not hard to understand that when a boy simply tucks his shirt tail in, leaves his phone off in his locker, doesn’t take food from the cafeteria, and doesn’t push anyone at break, and picks up his trash; he is considered to be a solid St. Christopher’s student and citizen. So, simply stated, following some silly rules gains you respect and breaking them earns you consequences. But understand, none of your teachers ever come to school on a given day looking to give out detentions or hours to someone who breaks the rules. In fact, we loath it. We long to have ultra positive days where all of the rules are followed, and we don’t have to remind you of them, where we share laughs together while we work through our classes, and we all live happily ever after. But we are human, so please forgive us if we become terse from repeated rule reminding. I am sure you can understand that it gets pretty old from our point of view to continue to have to ask you to follow some pretty simple rules. And, here is another secret: Your story is more than breaking a rule, it’s your reaction to getting caught. If you do break a rule, don’t make an excuse, don’t say someone else was doing it too, and please, please don’t say you didn’t know. Simply own it. When a boy owns a mistake, a teacher will often let a boy off of the consequences (unless he is a habitual offender, of course). Recognizing and taking ownership of a mistake can be your story. We don’t expect anyone to be perfect, but we do expect you to be honest with us and with yourself.
Now I need to review the Middle School rules with you. As I read these, you should ask yourself, “will my story be one of leadership when it comes to rules, or will my story be one of conflict.” Gentlemen, we look forward to reading your stories.