Replay culture

Our school is K-12. I interact with the little ones more than most high school teachers, as I am the only teacher to have a class in all three buildings on campus. My Advanced P.E. class meets in the small gym in Building 2, which is home to the 3rd-5th grade classrooms. For Economics I share a classroom with another teacher in Building 3, where the rest of the “Upper School” classes are (6th-12th). Building 1 houses K-2 and the main gym, where my Foundations P.E. class is based.

It’s normal for me to walk past Lower School students in the halls, or for them to be outside at recess while I’m leading a P.E. session on the field. One time I subbed for a 2nd-grade teacher, but that is a different post… Last week, I had just taken down the tables in the Building 2 cafeteria and I was heading to Building 1 for my final class. It was one of those days where it is chilly but pleasant if you are getting some sun, and I decided to sit outside for the forkful of minutes I had to eat lunch.

Since this broke from whatever could be called my normal “routine”, I found myself watching a new group of lower school students at recess. This group of 7 boys, probably 4th? 5th? grade were playing football. These recess games are always entertaining because the boundaries and rules vary greatly from group to group, as does ability and agree-ability. Typically I would just scout future athletes and evaluate sportsmanship and so on, but this group quickly stood out by doing something I have never seen kids do on their own at any age or level or game.

They had a designated referee!

Once I noticed this, I started paying close attention. From what they said, it seemed they had some sort of system where the referee rotated, but the same kid stayed in charge for the game I was watching. They had an odd number, so this system seemed to work well. There were a ton of questions I still have, like if this same group played regularly, how they rotated, how they decided on this system, etc. But that’s not the point here.

As I’m watching, the QB completes a short pass to a receiver running a crossing route, who is immediately and clearly two-hand touched (aka tackled) by the defender. Everyone stopped, but then the “referee” runs up and starts yelling “HE WASN’T TAGGED!” and chaos ensues. The ballcarrier starts running again and jukes a few defenders and gets to the endzone, with the referee trailing the playing putting his arms straight up in the air: TOUCHDOWN.

There were no complaints by the defense. Everyone had seen this kid get tagged, but the referee chose an alternate reality and everyone accepted it. Apparently, when you put someone in charge of making the calls at recess, you’re not surprised when the referees willfully affect the game.

I was fascinated at this point, but the best part hadn’t even happened yet.

As the scoring team celebrates, the referee interrupts. “The play is under review!” Now both teams grow silent and stay huddled while they wait for his verdict. The referee literally just stands motionless for probably 10 seconds (it felt longer, because absurdity) and then makes his announcement. “The call has been overturned! Fourth down!” So now the offense trudges back to the spot of the initial tackle, and they punt the ball.

What even.

I mean, there is so much to dissect here! It’s crazy enough that these kids had a referee, but for them to be at a place mentally where it’s normal for the ref to intentionally make a bad call just to add drama…

The obvious conclusion is there is something wrong with our replay system in televised sports. These recess kids were mimicking reality as they see it, and to them, sport-replay reality must be arbitrary and unpredictable. That is bad.

Or maybe kids are just weirdos, I dunno.

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