Monday, May 23, 2011

Fútbol Americano

One day during recess, I entered the teacher’s lounge and found a curious, but familiar object resting on the table. It’s brown and egg-shaped, but much larger than anything a chicken could lay. I picked up the leather ball and allowed my fingers to play over its white, grooved stitches.

Another teacher entered the room and noticed me holding the ball. In Spanish, he said, “In Bogotá, only the rich play American football. Because they want to be like Americans. Most of the rich kids in the north play in leagues. But they don’t have that here.”

I asked if the children in this neighborhood had ever even seen an American football before.

He shrugged and said, “Probably not.”

I walked to the window overlooking the schoolyard and spotted some of my students playing soccer on the blacktop below.

I grinned and said, “I think it’s time for that to change.”

Ball in hand, I descended the three flights of stairs and entered the schoolyard, where my students were still engaged in a heated game of Colombian blacktop soccer. When they noticed me standing there holding an American football, they immediately abandoned the game and rush over to me.

One of the smaller students asked, “Podemos jugar fútbol Americano?” (Can we play American football?)

“Of course,” I said, gently tossing him the ball.

And then there was chaos.

The scene denigrated into a page out of Lord of the Flies, as the students chased the small student, doing their darnedest to bring him down on the cold, hard blacktop. When the small student realized he had become a marked man, he dropped the ball, culminating in a massive dog pile consisting of sixth, seventh and eighth grade boys.

The schoolyard.
For the next several minutes, I watched the students repeat the cycle; one kid would snatch the ball from another, and run away from his attackers like Mufasa from a heard of wildebeest. I watched in horror as one student dove over a low-standing fence trying to catch an overthrown pass, but he reappeared a few minutes later, miraculously unscathed.

I knew I needed to do something to organize the mayhem before someone got decapitated, so I gestured for the wildebeests to gather around.

“Okay,” I said, “We are going to play a game called Three Flies Up.”

After I explained the rules, the game commenced and the students resumed their chicanery, albeit slightly more civilly. At the very least, I was able to teach them English words like “catch”, “throw” and “I got it!”

One of the boys ran up to me and cried, “Estamos jugando fútbol Americano!”

“Well,” I began, then reconsidered, “Close enough.”

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