It was so big it made the news. Nothing at Grinchley Avenue School ever made the news.
When our basketball team played in the finals of the regional middle school championships, the local news team showed up. It was a big deal. Coach Krauszer even wore a tie to school with a jacket the day the team played.
So it’s weird that a food fight would be the thing that made the news, not the basketball team. But life is like that.
It all started when Ronni, who is a girl, was being teased by Steve, a basketball player, about her name right before the game. He kept saying that Ronni was a boy’s name, which it usually is except you have to add an ‘e’ to the end, which is how my brother, whose real name is Ronald, spells Ronnie. But Ronni, the girl, really was short for Rhonda, which is a girl’s name.
But you see while I don’t mind explaining this to you, Ronni has been teased about her name most of her life and is sick and tired of explaining it. So when Steve came over to where Ronni was sitting with her friends Lou Ann and Karen and began to tease her, Ronni blew up and threw her jello at Steve.
She said later that she meant to land the jello, which was red, on his face. Instead, the jello landed on his basketball jersey, which was white. Steve got really mad that his jersey had a big red stain on it since the team had a game that afternoon. So he poured his Coke down the back of Karen’s shirt, the one that says ‘Girrlll Power’ and is pink. Karen screamed and jumped out of her seat, flapping her arms.
Meanwhile the rest of the basketball team, who were behind Steve carrying their lunch trays, decided to get in on the act. So they began to throw their spaghetti, meatballs, sponge cakes and milk at Ronni and her friends.
By now, Ronni and Lou Ann were ducking and some of the food went over their heads onto the kids at the next table.
Which was where I was sitting with my friends Bill and Yancy, watching it all from my wheelchair. My name is Matt and I use a wheelchair because I have cerebral palsy, which makes it hard for me to walk.
We were minding our business. At first the food fight seemed funny, but it was a little scary watching the entire basketball team go into action, especially since they outnumbered the girls so badly. I knew detention was just around the corner and I kept eyeballing the cafeteria to see when a teacher would come over to stop it.
But as the food started coming toward us, there were no teachers around. Suddenly my head was covered with spaghetti, as if it was a wig. Bill caught a meatball in his mouth and started chomping on it, cool guy that he is. Yancy picked up his baseball mitt and tried to field a few sponge cakes.
I wiped the spaghetti off my forehead. I could see Ronni and Lou Ann on the floor now, surrounded by gobs of spaghetti sauce and pasta. They were crying, huddled together. Karen had run out of the room , past the basketball team, who were high fiving each other now that their trays were empty. Steve was wiping at his white jersey, making the red spot grow bigger.
And the rest of the kids were banging the tables yelling “Food fight! Food fight!” like idiots. It was like sounding the alarm to the faculty room for someone to come running.
“C’mon guys, let’s clean this up,” I said, rolling over by Ronni. Bill went off to get some towels while the basketball team left the cafeteria, laughing over their shoulder in our general direction. Steve followed behind them.
As they left, Ronni and Lou Ann stood up, still sniffling. Bill came back with a huge pile of towels and we dropped them on the floor to sop up the mess.
That was when the lights started going off. I looked up to see Dudley from the school paper taking pictures of all of us. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Photographing the evidence,” he said, aiming his digital camera.
“What evidence?” I asked. “They left. It’s just us cleaning it up. What does that prove?” I asked, trying to grab his camera.
“It proves –“ a voice said “that you’ve got something to hide.”
At first I thought it was Yancy fooling around. Sometimes he would imitate Mr. Bender, the principal. But when I looked up, Mr. Bender was standing there, his hands on his hips in his ‘gotcha’ pose.
He pointed at Bill and me. “You and you – follow me. To my office.”
“Us?” Bill and I said together.
“We’re cleaning this up,” Bill said. “We didn’t do it.”
“Boys – follow me,” the principal repeated. “The rest of you – get the janitor to help clean this mess up.”
So what could we do? Bill and I looked around at Ronni and Lou Ann, but both girls had already left to go get the janitor. We went to Principal Bender’s office where we tried to explain that Steve and the basketball team threw the food.
“The basketball team wasn’t even in the cafeteria,” Mr. Bender said. “Food fights are illegal. You know that. Both of you are suspended for one full day.”
He sent us out to the hallway to wait for our parents. Bill and I sat fidgeting, knowing we were going to get into big trouble for this.
“I can’t believe when the whole cafeteria saw who did it that we can’t prove it wasn’t us,” I told Bill. “C’mon.”
“Where are we going?”
I rolled my wheelchair down the hallway toward the cafeteria. It was empty now except for the janitor who was cleaning the mess up with a bucket of water and a mop. He looked over at us but didn’t say anything.
“We should get back, Matt. We’re going to be in bigger trouble,” Bill said.
“Trust me,” I said.
“I trusted you when you told me to get towels, remember?”
Shrugging, I rolled into the cafeteria and looked up. There were video cameras hung on the walls. “Look!” I said to Bill. “All we have to do is have them check the surveillance tape and the principal will see who did it.”
We headed back to the principal’s office. By now my mom was there, looking very unhappy as she sat on the bench in the hallway. I explained to her what happened and how there was a video camera in the cafeteria. She told me not to worry and went in to talk to the principal.
A few minutes later, Bill’s mom showed up. Just as she started to yell at Bill, my mom and the principal came out. “I’ll check the cameras if you insist,” he told my mom, “but I saw your son and this other boy cleaning up the mess. And the basketball team was nowhere in sight.”
My mom nodded. “I’d appreciate it if you’d check the surveillance tape.” She sat down on the bench next to Bill and his mom. We all waited while principal Bender disappeared down the hall to go check the tapes.
As we waited, I could hear sounds coming from the gym – the beginning of the basketball game. It burned me that Steve and his buddies were out there playing basketball while we sat there with our moms having to prove we didn’t do anything.
About fifteen minutes later, Principal Bender came back, holding a sheet in his hand. “The surveillance cameras were turned on but the film was too grainy to show much, I’m afraid,” he said. “But these photos were taken of your sons.” He handed the sheet to my mom.
I looked over my mom’s shoulder. The photos that Dudley took were on the paper – showing Bill and I looking up guiltily as we cleaned up the spaghetti mess.
“I see,” my mom said, sighing. She gave me a funny look, one she usually reserves for when she’s caught me with my hand in the cookie jar.
There wasn’t much we could do. We took the piece of paper from the principal saying we were suspended and our mothers ushered us toward the front door of the school. Then, as we passed the gym, I peeked inside.
Steve was going for a basket. And on the front of his jersey was the big red spot where the jello had landed.
“Look!” I said to my mom, pulling her into the gym. “That proves it- that guy with the ball – he’s got jello on his jersey.”
My mom peered into the gym, staring at Steve. Steve hesitated and the ball was stripped away from him. He stood there, looking down at his jersey.
“Come with me, boys,” my mom said and we all went back to get the principal.
You should have seen it when Principal Bender arrived at the gym and saw Steve’s jersey. He held his hand up as if he was a referee, went out on the court and took Steve off the court right away. I saw him drilling Steve and Steve, with his head down, suddenly nodded.
I knew we were in the clear. But what I didn’t know was that the news people were sitting right near where the principal was talking to Steve and they heard the whole thing. So when principal Bender brought Steve over to apologize to Bill and me, a news crew was behind them, filming the whole thing.
“What’s this about a food fight?” one of the reporters asked me.
I recognized him from the evening news – a guy named Phil. “He started a food fight,” I said, pointing at Steve. “And we got blamed.”
The reporter held the microphone up to Steve. “Is that true?”
Meanwhile, Coach Krauszer came over to see what the problem was. “Principal Bender, you’re distracting everyone from the game.”
The principal shook his head. “I have to handle this , coach. Seems some of your players aren’t eligible to play right now. They were involved in a food fight.” He turned to me. “Which ones?”
I looked at Bill. We both knew the entire team was in on the food fight, but neither of us wanted to say that. We didn’t have to. Steve did.
“All of us, coach. We all did it,” he said. “But I started it.”
The coach shook his head. “I can’t lose my players now. You heard him – he did it.”
The reporter put the microphone near Principal Bender. “So what are you going to do about this food fight?”
The principal shook his head. “I’m sorry, coach. I have to suspend the whole team. The game is off.”
“But it’s a final-“
Now when I saw this on the evening news, they cut it all down a lot. They didn’t show the part about Coach Krauszer crying, which was just as well. And they left out the part where the referee went out and marched all our players off the court.
They did show me and Bill talking about how we almost took the rap for the basketball team. They cut out the part where I tried to explain about Ronni with an ‘e’ not Ronni with an ‘I’ and all that. I guess that was boring.
And then they took some shots of me playing basketball in my wheelchair after all the players left. That was cool.
So that’s the story of how Grinchley Avenue School’s Food Fight Fiasco made the news instead of the regional championship basketball game.
Life is strange sometimes. And fame is a fickle thing.
Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan