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The Brawl

The Brawl

Defining Moments from the Life of John Gronski
There are events in life that reach the level of defining moments. These are moments or timeframes that teach a lesson and generally build confidence in some way.

I was 12 years old and I just entered the seventh grade at the school across the river. This was a big deal to a shy, unconfident young boy like me.

My family had me trapped in a time warp and I did not know how to break out of it.

This was 1968.

While everyone my age was sporting longish hair, I was still sporting a crewcut, kind of like something out of 1962. My appearance, posture, and timidity were like letters on a neon sign that said, “pick on this kid.”

When I say, “the school across the river”, I mean it literally. Up until the time, with the exception of second grade when I attended a Catholic School, I attended elementary school in a public school which was two blocks from my house.

It was safe, comfortable, and in my neighborhood. Best of all, I knew everyone and everything.

Now that I was a “grown-up” seventh-grader I had to ride on a bus for about twenty minutes to a neighboring town that was part of our newly formed school district.

This school housed students from seventh through 12th grades. Now I was forced to attend school with kids from the town across the river who were rumored to be tough, strong, and thuggish, and I was going to be on their turf.

All went well until about a month into this new chapter in my life.

I was getting by and even made a few new friends, although we were still feeling each other out.

Then in a blink of an eye, I found myself staring down a crisis.

A strange kid from the neighboring town kept pushing me in the back as we stood in line. I had enough of his antics and pushed him back. Before I knew it, he threw down a challenge that the dozen of kids within earshot all heard. He challenged me to a fight behind the woodshop at lunch.

Because so many others heard the challenge, I could not back down.

Lunch was upon us before we knew it, and I had been growing more and more nervous about the impending brawl throughout the morning.

As I made my way to the “ring” behind the woodshop I was amazed that about 100 kids were already standing there, waiting for the fireworks to begin. I was going to be the main event for these bloodthirsty spectators. Before I knew it, my nemesis, Carl, appeared.

We both stood there facing each other, not knowing quite what to do.

Rather than hesitate for too long, I threw the first punch.

It was a roundhouse and landed solidly across Carl’s jaw. The brawl was on. We stood toe to toe and traded punches. I guess if you watch the latest Rocky movie you will get a sense of the damage we were inflicting on one another.

The crowd roared their approval. The spectators were ecstatic.

We were giving them a good show. Right before Carl and I reached the point of exhaustion we each felt a hand on the scruff of our necks. It was the vice-principal pulling us apart.

The bout was called.

It was a draw.

The crowd dispersed.

We were both shuffled into the school office, and because this was a simpler time in 1966, no police were called and no charges were filed. By later that afternoon, Carl and I were the best of friends. We had earned each other’s respect. No harm was done. Lessons were learned.

That was one of the first defining moments of my young life. I did learn lessons. It is interesting that I never got into another fistfight my whole time in high school. Other students saw I did not back down from the fight, and I gave out punishment as good as I got.

I also learned that there was truth to something my father had said. He said some of the best friends he had were people that he had gotten into a fight with when they first met. Standing up for what you believe and not backing down are powerful statements.

I am not advocating that anyone go looking for fights, but I am advocating that people stand up for what they believe.

This recalls another timeless truth; if you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything.

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