Wednesday, March 30, 2011


During a four-year streak of playing Airsoft with the boys and girls of my school STONE TABLE, I have seen some aggressively cowardly action on the battlefield. Having Nashville Airsoft attend the battles I organized to peddle automatic M-5s, M-16s, Uzis, Sniper Rifles, Shotguns, and ammunition to the kids I invited and organized to fight ended up being a mistake of mine more than once. As a rule, I made sure my own guns and munitions were inferior so as not to pose a threat to the child with the cheapest gun. After all, I did not bring kids together so I could enjoy a turkey shoot. I brought them together to illustrate the complexity and difficulty of the historical battles we studied in History. 

And because I was sick and tired of hearing my students say things like “If I were Charlemagne, I would have …”  There is nothing like having the plight of the Americans in The Battle of the Bulge sink into a child’s bones when you have him and his classmates spread thin in the woods to prevent a larger army of kids from literally forcing them into the Harpeth River. Or there is nothing like getting a kid to empathize with Hrothgar by having him sit around a fire at night in the late Fall eating turkey legs and hearing the story of Beowulf while coyotes are yipping in the distance. My students who have attended these events don’t typically walk around talking about things they don’t know. It’s a form of assimilation I’ve enjoyed for over a decade.

However, in my eagerness to “get kids to learn” I created a world of personal terror for myself during the two and three hour battles where I had foolishly ensured that the odds were stacked against me for the sake of the students. I’ve been chased and funneled by a smarter enemy of  7th & 8th graders into a barbed wire fence where I received two gouges in my left leg being stuck on the fence while being mercilessly shot, poned at point blank range with automatic fire by a foreign contingent who always seemed not to understand English on the battlefield, run down by squads of boys in a hefty go-cart doing drive-bys, sniped in the head from ridiculously far distances by 9th graders, chased downhill and shot to the point of having to dive downhill to avoid elementary and middle school students who routed my encampment, quietly lain in fear and trepidation in the middle of thorn bushes, nettles, deer and coyote poop, and once shot in the eye after hiding in the middle of a bamboo patch in drizzling, 40 degree rain. I have actually prayed for personal safety while crouching in the middle of a wheat field surrounded by students with the biggest guns talking within earshot of me about what they were going to do with me when they found me. It was Lord of the Flies all over. Especially one time.

A young, aggressive boy attended my school. He was from a wealthy family, over-confident in disposition, and snide in communication. He was not liked in the school by any student I can remember, but the battlefield was a different situation altogether. Away from mom and dad and in the company of other young men and girls, a sinister side of him emerged, making many of the younger boys fight each other to be on his side in the game in order not to be shot (or pistol-whipped) by him if caught.

I was in my usual attire, camo and a springloaded Desert Eagle. I had the handicap of a few younger students in my care. It was dark and fifty or so boys were divided into two teams on twenty acres of a Southern plantation that sported a small forest with caves. The eldest child in my squad was a nine-year-old Hebrew with a gas-powered gun. He knew Torah inside and out and had that strange, earthy confidence of many of my Jewish comrades of utilizing actual Old Testament accounts to their everyday advantage. Despite that I was the teacher and had created this reality, I knew that I had no authority until 9:00 p.m. when the game was officially finished and the  alternate reality over. My plan was to evade capture for the next hour. If it came to fighting, Luigi would be our saving grace.

We were hunkered down on the edge of the forest floor, a drop-off and the caves directly behind us. There were four of us, and the two youngest were scared to death. Down the hill towards our left came a platoon of boys, about thirty in number, silhouetted against the moonlight, being led by none other than the brat who was mostly disliked in real-time reality. And what a cheat! He had appropriated several squads and dissidents from my own team into one large mob. They stampeded down the hill after him, and he abruptly stopped no less than fifteen feet from where we were lying prone.

“Shut up!” he ordered. “Where did they go?” A few kids, eager to be in his good graces, offered locations where we definitely were not. He became irate at the contradictions.

“If you are lying, I’m going to shoot you right here.” Nobody protested, but they corporately tried to explain in illogical fashion how we could feasibly be anywhere.

“If you are lying, l'll shoot you.” Then he added “If you find Mr. Grayson, leave him for me.”

The hair on my arms bristled. What did that mean? Leave him for me. He was taking every moment of the game too seriously. I felt the perplexity of Ralph in Lord of the Flies. Like Ralph I had only the best interest of the little ones at heart. Ralph wanted to get them safely off the island. I wanted them to be safe and to have fun while learning. Ralph was appreciated by all present on the island but one: Jack. I was liked by all students present but this one. Jack wanted to stick Ralph like a pig. I knew this kid had a vendetta against me, but I figured it was largely due to his imbalanced mother who doted on him like he was her husband. I also figured that "violence" would only extend to intentionally incomplete homework and cheeky behavior in class. Here was a monster on my hands, and the game needed to get over fast.

One of the three kids in my squad farted, and the other two froze. I laid my arm across the little uns' heads to keep them down. Luigi, tired of keeping down when he had a good shot, open fired, hitting the caustic leader on the skin somewhere and causing confusion amongst the platoon.

“You shot me, idiot!” Leader singled out one of the kids in his group with whom he did not get along at school, and who, to be quite honest, was his spitting character-image. I listened to the showdown between these two love-starved, socially backward, and power-hungry rivals.

“No, I didn’t!”

Blap! Blaaap! Blap! Leader squeezed a few rounds point blank at his foil, and the foil went to his knees and then his side, howling in pain and protesting.

"Damn you!"

“Grab his gun!” Leader yelled. There was a scuffle and the gun was apprehended despite the angry complaints of the injured.

“You shot me, and you know it!” Leader yelled. “You go up to the prison (an oversized dollhouse) and you stay there until we get Mr. Grayson.”

There was that crazy threat again. Luigi shot again, a few bursts. Some of the enemy dispersed and a few of the enemy were able to locate the source of the fire. The next thing I knew, I was hightailing it out of there with the two little ones, leaving that brave, Hebrew Christ-figure to take the heat for us.


  1. Love the story! So, did you ever get the brat? or did he get you? Come on, don't leave us hanging.

  2. Those were great learning experiences.

  3. Now you know, Robbie, why I would drop the boys off and run like the coward that I am. Fighting against hormone driven, shriveled frontal-lobed pre- and full adolescent boys armed with the latest and deadliest Airsoft weapons chilled my blood. Give me a grown man to fight any day, even someone like Jim Holland. At least he would not try to destroy me, humiliate me, yes, but would leave me intact and alive. Those boys.....who knows?

  4. John, I had several terror-filled battles with your boys. One time I made sure Brittain was on my team because he had just acquired a gas-powered gun.


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