What the ‘Madre Hill Rule’ Teaches Kids about Life

Melanie Arter
By Melanie Arter | September 29, 2011 | 2:20 PM EDT

As a sixth grader at Wilson Intermediate School in Malvern, Ark., 11-year-old Demias Jimerson is learning what it means to win. As a football player, Jimerson scored seven touchdowns in one game. His team is undefeated. Jimerson is good – a little too good, as far as Wilson Intermediate Football League is concerned.

That’s why they invoked a rule that was made up when another football great dominated the game in the same football league – the Madre Hill rule.

Madre Hill is a former running back for the Oakland Raiders, who was considered one of the greatest running backs to come out of the University of Arkansas, so much so that he was named 1st Team All-SEC in 1995. He was named to the Razorbacks' All-time team for the 1990s and once held the all-time season rushing record for Arkansas high schools and for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Hill played in the NFL from 1999 to 2002, then returned to the University of Arkansas as a graduate assistant to football coach Houston Nutt in 2004. A year later, Steve Spurrier hired him as the running backs coach at the University of South Carolina. The football team finished the season with a 7-5 record and were invited to the Independence Bowl. In 2006, Don Strock hired him to coach running backs at Florida International University.

But before Hill made it big in the NFL, he was making big moves in Malvern, dominating the game so thoroughly that the league made up a rule with him in mind. Once Hill scored three touchdowns, if his team had a 14-point lead, he was banned by officials from scoring any more TDs.

According to Principal Terri Bryant, the defacto commissioner of the Wilson Intermediate Football League, the rule isn’t meant to punish players like Hill or Jimerson – it’s meant to help the other 5th and 6th graders develop as players as well.

What is supposedly meant to empower other young football players is actually sending a mixed message to players like Hill, Jimerson, and other kids who strive to do great things on the field and in life. What’s the message? Be good, but not too good. To the Wilson Intermediate Football League, Hill and Jimerson were too good. And what do you do to someone who is performing above and beyond what anyone else is doing, make up a rule to keep them in line.

If any of Jimerson’s teammates or rivals took his performance as a challenge to work harder and develop their skills, the Madre Hill Rule made them feel comfortable with mediocrity. It tells them: Don’t worry if you’re not as good as the best-performing player on the team, we’ll force that player to perform at a lower level so he doesn’t outshine you.

It reminds me of those students in school who didn’t apply themselves and get good grades, so they would make fun of the students who studied, paid attention in class, did their homework, and got good grades. Those under-achieving students called them nerds.

The nerd label was designed to make students who took their education seriously feel like their success was making other students uncomfortable, so they’d better tone it down, study less, hang out more, make their social life a priority, and maybe even drink or smoke to fit in with the underachievers.

That’s the same kind of Robin Hood mentality at work with redistribution of wealth – taking from those who have it in spades and giving it to those who don’t and in some cases could have had it if they had made better life/financial choices.

What the Madre Hill Rule teaches our kids is that diligent effort won’t be rewarded – ultimately, it will be used against them. If they strive to be normal instead of extraordinary, no one will feel threatened by them or resent them. Don’t stand out, because no one likes people who draw attention to themselves. It makes other people feel inferior.

It reminds me of something a guest preacher said in church on Sunday. He talked about how God has a blessing in store for all of us, but we need to step out of our comfort zone and do what may seem uncomfortable at first, but is really God’s calling on our lives. This preacher started his own business at 16 and was a self-made millionaire by the time he was in his 20s.

We could choose to be one of many, content with the status quo, never striving for more than what anyone else has, and we could continue to get what we’ve always gotten – living paycheck to paycheck, dealing with mounting debt. Or we could do listen to what God has called each of us individually to do with our lives and use our God-given talents to get the blessings that God already has in store for us.

Doing just enough to fit in, to not rock the boat, to be liked and not hated for our success, is not the message I want my daughters to learn. I want them to excel at whatever they choose to participate in: in school, in music, in art, in dance.

Every parent wants their kids to be more successful than they are. If we apply a Madre Hill Rule to our kids in youth football, we apply a Madre Hill Rule to their outlook on life. We put a cap on their success and encourage mediocrity.