School fights are a part of learning, growing up

Derek Franz
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

I didn’t return the fat kid’s punch because I knew I deserved it.

Mostly, I blamed Joe, my seventh-grade buddy, for getting me into the situation. We were riding our bikes around a school yard in Berthoud. I was new to the area and Joe was my only friend, tall with short, blond hair. Some kids from our middle school were playing football and asked us to play.

“Screw you, SIXTH-grader,” Joe hissed. Apparently he was eager to assert his dominance as a member of a superior class. I was surprised he wanted to fight them after they’d invited us to play. Joe stayed on his bike and circled the bewildered group of “sixletts.” I followed, not sure what else to do. More smack-talk ensued from the saddles of our pedaled steeds and Joe turned to leave. I rode after him but someone kicked my back tire. I stopped. My first reaction was to defend my pride.

A short, pudgy kid stood his ground, ready to face off. He pushed me. I pushed back. I felt his boobies under my hands as I shoved him. They were big enough to grab if I wanted, but I hadn’t the least inclination. I just wanted to get out of there but Joe was now in the mix of the rest of them, urging us on. We pushed each other some more and then came the punch. A left fist of curled sausage fingers landed squarely on my zygomatic arch (that’s doctor speak for cheek bone) and I couldn’t believe I’d just been punched in the face. Such a thing had never happened to me before. It didn’t hurt. My head barely snapped to the side under the blow. My feet didn’t even move. I just stared back at the squat fatty, who was feeling pretty tough once he realized I wasn’t going to hit back. The idea of doing so felt silly. I knew all along I was the jerk, so I got on my bike and rode off to a chorus of mockery.

I relived the scuffle as an out-of-body experience the other day. I was walking down Eighth Street in Glenwood and saw a group of children that seemed to be getting into it. There were about six kids that looked to be in about fifth grade. I thought I heard some fighting words as I passed on the opposite side of the road, but mostly they looked like friends playing on their scooters and skateboards. There was a bigger, chunky one among them with whom a smaller boy seemed to have a problem. Soon enough I heard the unmistakable sounds of a scrap and turned to see the exaggerated martial arts of elementary brawlers, more drama than punch. The little kid quickly went to the ground. The big kid continued to give him fake kicks, like a pro wrestler, while the rest of the children watched in astonishment.

I didn’t know what to do. I took a step across the street to intervene but stopped myself. So far as I could see no one was truly getting hurt. I decided to keep an eye on things – make sure it didn’t escalate to unreasonable levels – and let the kids experience natural growing pains. Jerks exist all over the world and crap happens. Best to learn how to deal with it early when there’s less risk. Plus, I didn’t know what the fight was about; the small kid might’ve been asking for it.

The big kid saw me watching and backed off. He even seemed friendly to his opponent, offering to give him back a toy gun. The little kid was merely traumatized by the idea that he’d been “beat up.” Otherwise he was running around just fine, with hardly any dirt on his clothes. He took off with two of his buddies who tried to console him.

“You can call the police if you want to do something about it,” one suggested as they moved down the street towards me. The young victim shook his head. His ego was hurt, that was all. He rode past me on his scooter, apparently hoping to cry his tears in private.

“Don’t worry about it, man, you’re OK. We all get beat up in some way at some point in our lives,” I said as he rolled by. I couldn’t help it. I wanted to say more, but it obviously bothered him to be reminded that his humiliation was public. I think he would’ve felt worse if I’d stepped into the fight and “saved” him, so I was glad I didn’t.

My main worry was that the ordeal reinforced the big kid in believing he can get whatever he wants if he throws his weight around. I’ve known some adults who use screaming, intimidation and back-stabbing to get by, and it’s rare they have loyal friends. Many of these people will die lonely and it comforts me to think so. Let them be and soon they will be no more, I say.

To the small boy, I would offer Francois de La Rochefoucauld’s words: “The violence done us by others is often less painful than that which we do to ourselves.”

– Derek Franz thanks his friend April for his “Quotation Dictionary.” He can be reached at

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