The Quiz Bowl Incident

My daughter joined the district quiz bowl team this spring. She loves it.

No, I mean she LOVES it.

Fist pumps and happy dances after a correct answer loves it.Quiz Bowl Incident

Her teammates are her peeps. Most of them are boys and in the gifted program. They don’t know she’s about two years younger than all of them and I don’t think they’d care. Because she’s good. Not the best at the literature categories but a whiz at science and math. And all Sherlock Holmes related questions.

Practice is the highlight of her week.

And then this happened.

I was just getting ready to pick her up a few weeks ago when the coach called and he had that tone of voice that makes your heart sink.

“There’s been an incident.”

What?? What could happen at quiz bowl practice??

I’m picturing her trying to balance a chair on two legs and she whacked her head. Or tripped on the stairs and face planted. I just got into the car and started driving as the coach laid it out for me.

One of the boys disagreed with her on an answer, grabbed both her arms and pinned them behind her back and pulled up on them until she cried.

The team was split into two and her group was left in the charge of a high-school freshman who didn’t know how to handle the situation. Quick thinking teammates ran to the coach who got things under control.

I’m hearing this as I’m pulling into the school parking lot and I’m trying to figure out how to react. Because I still can’t get my mind around that this happened at quiz bowl practice. You know, where a bunch of nerdy kids see how quickly they can answer questions. I don’t expect it to be physical.

Walking up I see the boy standing outside the classroom. He’s big. Big like maybe a future linebacker big. His mom, I assumed it was his mom, was standing in front of him with a look that said nothing good was in his immediate future.

My daughter was okay, the tears had already dried. By her own admission she was more scared than hurt.

There were apologies from the boy to my daughter (before I got there) and profuse apologies from the coach.

I left saying that I needed to process what had happened because I didn’t want to speak out of anger or until I’d had a full debrief from my daughter. But no matter what the story was it was NOT okay for him to put his hands on her. Period.

The story goes that there was some disagreement about a question and the situation got out of hand. The boy lost his temper and grabbed her. She was scared and he didn’t stop until the coach came in. The boy apologized and she believed it to be sincere.

I don’t know this boy but I’ve seen him at practices and tournaments. He’s like a big puppy that doesn’t know his own strength and gets excited and can’t control himself. But he’s not a puppy; he’s a boy soon to be a young man.

He’s a boy who’s awkward and doesn’t fit in. He’s a boy who loves quiz bowl as much my daughter does.

He’s a boy my daughter had considered a friend. And still does.

The coach emailed me that afternoon with more apologies and advising that the boy would be suspended and would miss at least two tournaments. There are only four tournaments this season.

My husband and I talked about it and we thought the punishment sounded excessive given that we didn’t believe the incident was malicious. We said that we were not advocating for such a severe punishment but that we left the decision to him.

We talked with our daughter to see how she felt about him being suspended. She didn’t like it and thought the team needed him.

We had a looooonnnnggg talk about how it is NEVER okay for someone to put their hands on her like that. LIKE NEVER OKAY.  And if it happens again she has our permission to use some of those martial arts kicks that she practices on her dad.

BUT – I do know I don’t want to be the parent that prevents a gifted kid from the one activity that keeps him (or her) sane. I do want to be able to distinguish between when a kid makes a mistake and when a kid is a malicious bully. I do know I want to demonstrate for my daughter what forgiveness looks like.

BUT – I also want her to know that real friends may disagree with each other and they may argue but they NEVER physically hurt one another.

Was I wrong to let this boy off the hook? I don’t know.

Sometimes it feels like I’m making this parenting thing up as I go. I guess we all are.

I now sit in the back of the quiz bowl practice room mostly because I feel better about doing something. I try not to shout out answers on the occasion I happen to know one. So, I’m pretty quiet.

Have you had a situation like this happen where you weren’t sure what to do? How did you handle it?

14 Responses

  1. Wow, that’s a tough one. You’re right, there are so many tough calls in parenting; I feel like I have one per week and I wasn’t prepared for this! I think if the kid doesn’t have a history of acting physical with other children in anger, and your daughter feels comfortable around the boy, and she has accepted his apology, then a lighter punishment is acceptable. Your intuition, and your daughter’s, is to be trusted here. In my personal opinion, the draconian reaction of most schools to incidents such as these (and more minor ones) can ignore the normal bumps in a child’s (particularly a boy’s) personal development. Many young boys struggle with self-control and impulsivity, and it doesn’t make them monsters. I hope that he learns his lesson and that everything gets back to normal soon!

    • The Common Mom says

      Whew! I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks the all-or-nothing rules can be unrealistic. We really did follow her lead on this and they seem to be mending their friendship.

  2. I know how hard it can be. I am a therapist in a school setting and I work with 2x exceptional kids with emotional and behavioral disorders who typically are not aggressive but incidents do occur and then we need to sort out the complexities and administer consequences that hopeful teach, not punish. And I am raising my own boy who has had his share of bumps on the road to maturity. You listened to your heart and followed your daughter’s lead. I fully support your judgement call and your presence is reassuring to all the kids no doubt. Hopefully, the boy learned and is getting help if needed too….

    • The Common Mom says

      Thank you for your kind words of support because it wasn’t easy. My first inclination was to go mama bear but I’m glad of the way it’s turned out. So far all’s quiet on the quiz bowl front…

  3. Wow! I think it’s great that you gave him another chance. That must have been very hard! And I’m sure it was so scary for your daughter. There is a lesson in there….for them, the coach and the parents. 😉

  4. As someone who participated in academic competitions, it can get crazy heated, I think you made the right decision. I hope the kid figures out how to control himself!

    • The Common Mom says

      I love how excited these kids get – wish I had done it in school. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. It sounds like you made a great decision by supporting your daughter and by showing empathy and compassion for the boy and his situation. It is great that the school took your viewpoint into consideration. I think that sometimes common sense is replaced by blanket policies. A zero tolerance mentality can hurt innocent people. In my kids’ elementary school, a second grader was suspended for 3 days because his mom packed a non sharp knife so he could cut his apple for lunch. I think a better approach would have been to call the parent and explain the policy.

    • The Common Mom says

      The zero tolerance mentality made me question sending lip balm in my daughter’s backpack – crazy!

  6. Showing your daughter compassion, having concern for both your daughter and the boy who grabbed her, and wanting to handle the situation in the right way–I’d say you did it absolutely right! Often times, punishments can cause more life-long damage than a good lesson learned. Punishments should fit the offense and not be made to appease others’ expectations.

    You’ve set an excellent example all the way around! Fist pumps for you, Mom!

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