Strange but true: Cage fighting in a Texas school

April 16, 2009 — by Amalie MacGowan and Uttara Sivaram

In ancient Rome, criminals were once released in the middle of a gigantic coliseum filled with armed and dangerous gladiators. After the trumpet sounded, the wrongdoers and the gladiators would have a go at one another, to the intense entertainment of the Roman citizens who had assembled to watch the carnage. After the gladiators effectively eliminated the population of wrongdoers in the coliseum, the audience would meander out, eyes bright with the memory of a good, plain fight. Apparently, times have not changed much since then.

A recent acquisition of old documents following an investigation into Dallas school districts discovered a strange pastime that had once been regularly practiced at the South Oak Cliff High School from the year 2003 to about 2005. Students had been encouraged—sometimes even forced—to resolve their disputes physically; namely, in steel utility cages located in the boys’ locker room. The students would be locked inside the cage during lunch to battle it out with only their bare fists. Others at the school, including staff members, looked on, apparently amused.

The Dallas Morning News had been quick to get inside the loop, traveling to the high school to speak about the issue with the staff. Donald Moten, principal of South Oak Cliff High, was put on the spot when asked about the cage fighting. “Ain’t nothing to comment on,” replied Moten. “It never did happen. I never put a stop to anything because it never happened.” Clearly, Moten was trying more to convince himself of his innocence. Unfortunately for him, hiding something like cage fighting in a high school is like trying to conceal Texas on a map of the United States. Whether information is volunteered or not, someone will eventually figure out what’s going on.

In essence, this school was an insular, tight-knit community with teachers who were alumni, and multiple students who were related to members of the faculty. It’s bizarre that not one of the students or faculty members would have reported cage fighting to a source that could have filed criminal charges during the course of the two years during which the acts were committed, between 2003 and 2005. South Oak was known throughout the area as a hypercompetitive sports school, especially for basketball, and it is obvious that its aggressive playing on the court transferred to the school’s policy for handling student confrontations.

Though the community we live in is sparingly punctuated with violence, this tranquil-like behaviour is atypical of most public schools. When fights in schools break out between students, teachers are expected to employ conflict-resolution methods to alleviate the matter. In South Oak High, teachers made a game out of school fights, encouraging them and stoking the flames underneath their students’ high tempers. The administrators at this peculiar school put their students under the spotlight and turned resolvable differences into adrenaline pumped bull fights. In this sense, the incidents at South Oak High are not only bizarre, but also are a reminder that the worst of human behavior isn’t in the past.

So before even thinking about ‘duking’ it out in a metal cage with a jeering crowd nearby, remember that at this school, ancient Rome exists only in history books.

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