The physical and emotionally difference between the sixth graders and the older children was strikingly apparent to students and teachers alike, and the sixth graders segregated themselves. They shared a common playground with the older ones, but they staked out those areas that the older kids did not use.
As Neil watched, a baseball game was getting under way. Duarte and Sean were the captains; they called the rest of the class one by one to make up sides. To Neil’s dismay, Duarte was choosing only Chicanos and Sean was taking only Anglos.
Neil moved closer, thinking he was getting a sad insight into racial tension at Kiernan school. Instead he heard Tim Galloway hanging on Sean’s arm whispering urgently, “Choose Rafael!” When Sean chose Bob Thorkelson instead, Tim gasped in dismay, “He can’t even hit the ball!”
Sabrina Palmer jerked at Sean’s other arm and said, “What’s the matter with you? Choose the good ball players. It doesn’t matter if they are Mexican.” To her it was not a weighty matter of prejudice; she just wanted to win the ball game.
On the other team, Oscar Teixeira threw his glove down and snapped at Duarte, “Why didn’t you get Greg? He’s the best pitcher.”
Before the teams had even been chosen, some of the players on each side had begun to wander off in disgust. Neil heard, “That’s a lousy way to choose a team,” and “What’s the matter with Duarte anyway?” and “That was cheap!”
Neil whistled and waved the kids over to him. They came reluctantly; they didn’t know him well yet and being called in from the playground usually meant that someone was mad at them.
Neil asked them, “Do you want to play baseball?”
“We did,” Sabrina said, “until Sean and Duarte screwed it up.”
“Let’s try again,” Neil said. He pointed to two of the most athletic looking boys and said, “Ramon and Carlos, you choose teams this time. And make it fair. Duarte and Sean, you two stay with me.”
Neil had chosen two Hispanics as captains — he could as well have chosen two Anglos — so this time the children were chosen by ability and there was a fair racial mixture.
Neil led Sean and Duarte away from the ball diamond and asked them, “What are you two doing, trying to start a race riot?”
Duarte shot him a black look and said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Oh, you don’t? Well, you must be the only kid in sixth grade who doesn’t know. Your teammates knew; they were complaining and walking off before I ever got there. What’s up?”
“Well, Sean started it.”
“I did not! I was choosing fair yesterday when you took all Mexicans.”
“That’s ’cause Mexicans are better,” Duarte muttered.
“Duarte!” Neil snapped, putting boundaries on the confrontation. He continued in a softer voice, “Duarte, do you really think Mexicans are better than Anglos?”
“No. But Sean thinks Mexicans are no good.”
“I do not!” Sean replied, then muttered under his breath, “I just think you are no good.”
Duarte lunged for Sean and Sean’s reaction was only a heartbeat behind. Neil caught them each by the back of his shirt and jerked them apart, none too gently. “Stop it!” Neil’s shout echoed across the playground, and the ball players all looked up. “That will be enough out of both of you. I pulled you aside to talk to you — to help you solve your problems. If you want to fight, that’s a whole different story.” more tomorrow