Kangaroo Court is a common practice across many sports. It is a way to “police your own” and from my experiences, a great way to promote camaraderie and a light-hearted atmosphere within your team. When I was playing in the NCAA, Kangaroo Court was a big event every Wednesday after practice. Our team had a “Fine Master” who was basically a makeshift judge and everyone took part in the process.
The rules were pretty simple. Rule number one, “Rookies can’t write fines in the fine book.” Rule number two, “Everyone has a right to the appeal process. Appeals are heard and judged by your peers in the same court session that the fine is announced.” Rule number three, “All fines must be paid up within the week after the fine is administered. If a fine goes unpaid in the first week, it is doubled every week thereafter.”
We always looked forward to court sessions because everyone would get riled up and there were always a lot of laughs and a lot of great stories. One thing court did was recap the events of the parties on the weekend and uncover any stories or mischief that might have occurred. During court sessions guys would get fined for all kinds of fun stuff from stepping on the team logo in the dressing room or leaving your stall a mess after practice. Quite often, the fines were pretty funny like being fined a dollar for getting caught holding hands with your girlfriend in public or bringing a bad type of beer to a party.
Rookies always took a big hit when it came to court sessions. Since rookies couldn’t fine, there was no retaliation for getting cut up in court. You had to grin and bear it and wait until your sophomore year when you could razz the next crop of rookies.
In my freshman year, I remember getting hammered in the first few court sessions. In the first session I got tabbed by Chris Brekelmans, who would go on to be one of my best friends on the team, for a dollar for taking my helmet off during the stretch at the conclusion of a practice. Every fine came with a dollar amount and then a comment. The comment for the one was, “Who do you think you are? Bobby Orr? Have some respect and keep your helmet on so we don’t have to stare at your ugly mug.”
Breksy was an intense guy and he could hit like a freight train. The first captain’s practice we had that year, I came around the net and made a nice pass through the seam to a guy cutting through the neutral zone. I was watching my pass with pride when all of a sudden, wham! Breksy finished a check on me and folded me up like a cheap lawn chair. I vaguely remember him barking at me as I slowly began to regain the air in my lungs and the ringing in my head began to subside.
At the end of each court session, there would be a few fines directly aimed at the rookies. One might say, “One dollar fine to all the rookie (insert pluralized derogatory four-letter word of choice) just for being alive.” Another one might say, “One dollar fine to all rookies for being the ugliest rookie class in school history.” It was always something everyone would get a good laugh out of to end court on a good note.
Over the years I was a part of some really funny fines. One fine in particular required a great deal of planning and coordination. We had one player on our team (I won’t name names because I know he’ll deny it but he knows who he is) who would always disappear and then make up elaborate stories about where he was and what he was doing. Let’s call this guy Jack for argument’s sake. Jack would bail out on plans with the boys like bowling and when we’d ask him where he was, he would say, “Oh sorry boys. I had to go help out at a soup kitchen for the evening in Massena.”
One day, we decided to tail him when he backed out on a plan. We all crammed into our buddy’s car and brought along a digital camera for evidence gathering purposes. We followed Jack to a movie theatre in Canton, NY which was 10 miles down the road. On the way to the theatre, Jack stopped at a house and a girl jumped into his car. Click, click. Jack and the girl then went to the movie theatre. We took some more pictures of Jack and the girl entering the theatre and decided we would use it as evidence with the fine we were about to lay on him.
The plan was to gather the intel and then wait until court to drop the big fine on old Jacky boy. But since we had already gone through all the trouble to follow him, we decided we couldn’t wait until the next court session to see the surprise on his face when we caught him. So we piled out of the car and went in and bought tickets to the movie. I think it was some chick flick like “Step-Up” or “Save the Last Dance” or something. That made it even better because it added more money to the fine.
So we went into the dark theatre and could see him and the girl sitting a few rows down, waiting for the previews to start. We quietly snuck in behind him and sat down. In a few moments one of the guys tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he knew if this movie was supposed to be any good. Jack turned around to reply and was faced with five of his teammates grinning ear-to-ear. We immediately erupted in laughter and he just started laughing as he knew that he’d been caught. I felt bad for the poor girl. She must have been embarrassed. To make matters worse, since we already bought our tickets, we stayed and watched the whole movie and ruined the rest of his date.
Even though we caught him in the act and embarrassed him in public, Jack wasn’t going to escape further embarrassment at the next court session. All in all, the fines amounted to: $1.00 for bailing on Tuesday night bowling with the boys. $1.00 for bailing on the boys for a girl. $1.00 for lying to the boys as to why you were bailing. $1.00 for taking a girl from another school on a formal date. $1.00 for going to see “Step-Up”. $1.00 for not offering the boys some of your large popcorn at the movie. Those fines were funny enough, but it was definitely the surveillance pictures that brought on the biggest round of laughter.
Another one of my teammates had a real rough time during his freshman year with fines. He just seemed to be getting dinged more and more for boneheaded infractions at every court session. The first court session of that year, he was fined for wearing a BostonCollege t-shirt to one of our workouts. I mean this was as bad as it gets. It would be like playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and wearing an LA Kings t-shirt during an interview.
The next one he got nailed for was answering a call on his cell phone during a team workout. For starters, cell phones are banned in the dressing room and workout rooms. Secondly, how hard are you working when you have time to have a leisurely chat with your girlfriend on your cell phone when you’re supposed to be pushing the envelope in the weight room with everyone else?
Sometimes, even though everyone knows court is supposed to be light-hearted and fun, things can get pretty heated. During my freshman year, in the second or third court session of the year, things got pretty hairy. One of the veteran players fined my roommate, Matt Nickerson, who I introduced in a previous story “Your Friendly Neighbourhood Appleby’s”, and he didn’t take too kindly to it. The fine referenced Nicks’ teeth and had a chirp about an orthodontist or something like that. Everyone was laughing but Nicks was just boiling over and I could tell right away things were about to get real. All of a sudden Nicks snapped back that he was going to introduce himself to the veteran on the ice during next practice and stormed out of the room. Everyone looked at me as if to say, “Is he just kidding around or is he serious?” I just nodded and said, “Ya he’s not kidding.”
Chirping is chirping but all hockey players are prideful and have breaking points. Sometimes, and it depends on what the player’s mindset is at the time, they can take a lot of flak and other times it doesn’t take much to flip the switch. The best part about blowups and feuds in the dressing room is that they are quickly forgotten and put to rest. Boys will be boys, but in the end, your team is your family.