Tale of bullying from one who knows

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Column by Jim Clark

Two weeks ago we talked about Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins and his apparent hazing of a rookie teammate, hazing that had racial overtones.
There has been much debate over the past few months about those activities, but last week it was discovered that Incognito was being treated for mental issues at an undisclosed facility.
If only it were that easy to get bullies out of the way.
The Dolphins’ issue raised the bar in discussions of bullying as people everywhere discussed what could be done about it.
In my experience, not much … at least in the past.
I still suffer bad memories from the days when I was a victim at Don Bosco High School in Ramsey, New Jersey.
When I was a freshman, I was bullied unmercifully, mainly on the school bus, and I wasn’t alone. All the freshmen on the bus were subject to physical intimidation, being ordered to “dogpile” on the floor of the bus, and all the while the bus driver, who wanted to be one of the boys, was the perfect imitation of the not-yet-popular Sgt. Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes: “I see nothing.”
It all happened on the way home. In the morning it was important that when we got to school we would look clean and neat. It was a Catholic boys school, and we had to wear shirts and ties every day. The ties usually came off immediately after the bus pulled out of the parking lot.
I started at this particular school because it was just about three miles from home. But shortly after freshman year started, my parents moved us from Ramsey to Tenafly, and I suddenly had to take the bus.
I still remember the name of the most prominent instigator of the bullying. I’m not sure what I would do if I met him today, more than 50 years later, but I don’t think it would be a reunion between long-lost friends.
It got so bad that one day in the spring I walked out of school at lunch time, and walked and hitch-hiked home.
It was near the end of the school year, so my parents, who saw for the first time how upset I was, complained to the school. The next morning one of the two priests who ran the place with iron fists was on the bus, and this only added to the determination of the upperclassmen to pick on the freshmen when they had the chance. We hear a lot how bullying victims should tell someone, but I can tell you first-hand that isn’t always a solution.
Finally the school year ended, and mercifully I didn’t have to take the bus the final day.
I wanted to transfer to Bergen Catholic my sophomore year, but lacked one class, general science, that BC had for freshmen and Don Bosco didn’t. So I went to the public school summer school, Tenafly High, and took science, and my mom also signed me up for another class … typing. This turned out to be a decision that had a lifelong effect on me.
I was already registered at Tenafly High, and already had a schedule, when Bergen Catholic called and they had a vacancy, since I now qualified. I wasn’t sure at that point that I wanted to go there, but, in another good decision, my folks insisted on the Catholic school.
It galls me every time I read about the football prowess of my first high school, how they play everywhere, how they often meet Bergen Catholic in state finals. I still, deep down, resent their ignoring of the bullies, and hope they lose every time BCHS plays them.
I also wonder how the bus rides are nowadays for the freshmen. I hope it’s not a situation where they are picked on as much as we were. Maybe our suffering helped clean things up … but somehow I have my doubts.
Jim Clark is editor of the West Marion Messenger and South Marion Citizen.