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ThinkEd: Rewriting the Songbook

Stuart Middleton


7 June 2009

The school songbook is being rewritten. On the Ball has been replaced by On the Brawl.

 On the brawl, on the brawl on the brawl

Forget the ball join in the brawl

Good boys and good girls, and even all sorts

Let’s make a good brawl a spectator sport……..

In this wonderful world of education we continue to be inspired by the way in which the stars line up between issues. This week we segued without interruption from the issue of school balls and boozing to rugby and boozing with a little light relief on brawling along the way.

Two girls’ rugby teams were suspended from an Auckland competition in Auckland because a brawl that started on the field between the teams became inclusive and involved spectators as well.  This is not a good thing and the response of the authorities was appropriate. Where did the girls learn such behaviour? From the boys of course!

Meanwhile what were the boys up to down south? Christchurch Boys High School and Christ’s College were getting ready for their annual match and, remembering the issues of boozing and brawling in the past, decided to breathalyse all the spectators. There is something deliciously silly about this which I can’t put my finger on. Has schoolboy sport reached the ridiculous point where the big issue is whether the spectators are in a fit state to watch the game?

Perhaps the answer is that applied by FIFA on occasion following issues of crowd behaviour, play the games without spectators. That will teach them a lesson.

The assumption that brawling is inspired by booze is to ignore the fact that on-field brawling is undertaken by boys and now girls who are sober and made drunk only by some mad and crazy brain malfunction that puts winning a game ahead of mere civilised behaviour. This is a goal supported with enthusiasm by sports talkback hosts.

The thread that joins issues together is the link between booze and schools – sport and balls. While some principals insist on deluding themselves in public by pursuing the view that what happens after the ball is nothing to do with the school, or in the case of the rugby that it isn’t the participants but the spectators and therefore that is also nothing to do with the school. It most certainly is and schools have as much a role to play in addressing this issue as does any other institution in our community.

What happened to the old rule that “this is a school event, therefore no alcohol”? Of course there has always been a bit of a nudge and a wink at the link between school rugby and drinking but by and large this has been the rule. So, which word in that contains ambiguity – I would have thought that it was clear. This very week the tragic death of a sleepwalking New Zealand  First 15 player who, after a night on the booze while on a school rugby trip to England, sleep-walked out of a fourth storey window and fell to his death.

In a previous school after-ball issue and in this rugby player death it appears that the schools are battling not only the demon of youth drinking but also the role of adults (including parents) who seem to connive at such behaviour. In one a group of parents sets out to make sure their little ones can get drink at an after ball in the other the reports are that “there was a booze culture” in the team. And parents on the rugby trip insisted that the trip continue, threatening legal action if the school called it off and brought the lads home. What chance do schools have in the face of all this?

Once upon a time we used to have junior socials in schools but they were put aside as the ability of schools to provide entertainment on the one hand young people felt was appropriate and on the other schools considered to be acceptable. Having to employ security and cope with outsiders also took some of the enjoyment out of the evening for staff.

Students at Otago were famous (or is it infamous?) for their booze-fired antics – in fact all the universities had their drinking horns and suchlike – but in the south it has reached a stage where it is both uncontainable and unacceptable and will have to go.

So with schools balls and after-balls the answer is both easy and inevitable – stop having them. The current young adolescent group has no shortage of a social life a life that would once have been unimaginable to other generations at that age and schools can no longer cope.

But school sport is another issue. We just have to win this one.

In the United States there is something of an issue related predominantly to after the games. A recent report notes that “The violence that takes over after sports is an inevitable part of major wins and losses, psychologists say, and usually involves alcohol, youth and testosterone. Add an instigator or two, and trouble brews like a chemical reaction.” In the States the crowds that attend major college sports events exceed those we get for All Black tests by far so the dynamic is very different.

Meanwhile we seek solutions in having police trail buses loaded with youngsters on the way to after-balls. We seek solutions in setting up drink/drive testing stations for those walking into a sports match. We feign surprise when schools rugby teams brawl. We turn a blind eye to the booze culture among sporting teams.

 Is this the behaviour of an advanced civilisation?

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