The high price of winning


I suppose that all young boys enter into various kinds of competition as they grow older. They will make up games on the playground, wrestle with each other, participate in organized youth sports, and the like.

Sometimes these competitions can be dangerous, as in the case of BB fights or throwing rocks or dirt clods at each other. All of which are part of my own history. Sometimes the competition is just ridiculous. 

In the 6th grade, I was in Mrs. Ferris’ class at Dickson Elementary School in Kingsport, Tenn. Dickson, a county school, went from the 1st through the 8th grades. The area had been annexed by the city of Kingsport, which meant that the following year I would attend a city school, which was Ross N. Robinson Junior High School.

So, in the 6th grade, we were sort of the upperclassmen of elementary school. In our own eyes at least.

How this particular competition began I cannot recall, but Jacob (not his real name) and I entered into a “corporal punishment contest.” Back in the day when teachers still had some authority, a common method of punishment was paddling. Every teacher had a paddle, consisting of a piece of wood one-quarter to one-half inch thick, with a handle, which would be applied with firmness to the offender’s backside.

I don’t ever recall knowing of a girl who was paddled in school, so this was mostly for unruly boys. 

The normal paddling discipline would be for the teacher to take the young miscreant into the deserted hallway and administer three “licks,” as they were called.

The perpetrator of whatever offense had been committed would either be marched back into the classroom (supposedly in shame) or forced to stand outside in the hallway for the remainder of that class. Sort of a “solitary confinement” for elementary school kids,

Anyway, Jacob and I decided that whoever could tally the highest number of “licks” by the end of the school year would be the winner. And not all corporal punishment counted. If a parent administered a spanking or paddling, it didn’t count. It only counted if a teacher or other school person did the deed.

It was surprisingly easy to get on Mrs. Ferris’ nerves. Of course, when one is trying to get paddled that probably helped. Not all the licks were because I actually did something.

Once, Mrs. Ferris was writing something on the blackboard and a kid named Joe pulled out a drinking straw and fired a spitball at Mrs. Ferris’ butt. However, I had been taken out to the hallway so many times that she marched back to my seat, jerked me up, took me out in the hallway, and administered the three licks.

As I returned to my seat I grinned at Jacob, having now passed him in the competition. 

As the end of the school year loomed, Jacob and I were tied at 57 licks each. One day we both misbehaved at the same time, and we were led into the hallway. But something was different. This time she took us to the vice-principal’s office and left us with Mr. Hendrix.

We were standing before his desk as he remained seated and stared at us until it became uncomfortable.

Finally, he said, “I don’t know what it is with you boys but it’s going to stop. Mrs. Ferris will no longer be paddling you. I will.” Oops. Didn’t plan on that.

He walked over to the wall where this rather large paddle hung, took it off its hook, and slowly walked toward us. “Wallets out,” he said. After placing them on his desk he said, “Anything else in your pockets?” There wasn’t. “Okay, both of you bend over and grab your ankles.”

We were side by side, Jacob and I. The first lick hit and I realized that we were in a whole new level of discipline.

If what Mrs. Ferris administered was “corporal punishment,” Mr. Hendrix administered “sergeant major punishment.” This was nothing to grin about.

Mercifully, Mr. Hendrix adhered to the “three lick standard,” for which I was profoundly thankful. Afterwards, as we retrieved our wallets, he reminded us that all future punishments would be in his office.

On the way back to class, I made a decision. I was quitting the contest. My behind would ache for days and served as an incentive to stay out of the contest.  I probably should have informed Jacob of my decision, but I didn’t.

In the next few weeks before the end of the school year, he visited Mr. Hendrix twice more. The final score was his 67 licks to my 60. He was elated and, secretly, so was I. Sometimes the price of winning is just too high.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King ( Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South ( He may be contacted at]