Rock! Paper! Scissors! Combat at the Green Bean

by Jordan Green

One thing you learn from witnessing a serious rock, paper, scissors contest is that children are sly, utterly focused and ruthless against even the most determined adult opponents.

For the third year running, the Green Bean coffeehouse attracted hand-gesture fanatics of all stripes ‘— drama queens, wrestling freaks, college students, and parents and children ‘— on June 18 for a battle for the top prize ‘— in this case, a hundred dollars and a case of Burn energy drink.

The mood in the room tonight is edgy.

Sarah Rashid, in particular, has a score to settle. A recent graduate of Grimsley High School and a member of the ‘Legendary Fists of Fury’ team, she was eliminated in the third round last year by a pint-sized Catholic school whiz named Adam Forde. Her fellow Fists, Matt ‘Rock Solid’ Guttentag and Jason Stuckey, fared worse, losing in the first round.

Rashid is calling foul.

‘“Between you and me, he cheated,’” she says. She demonstrates her throw from last year ‘— a quick and resolute ‘rock’ ‘— and then what she says is the kid’s ‘— a winning ‘paper’ slowly eased out after a split second of hesitation.

‘“If it’s a kid this time I’m not going to look at his face,’” Rashid says. ‘“I’m going to watch his hands.’”

Across the room, young Adam Forde has also returned for more.

Dressed in a flame-job cap and tie-dyed T-shirt emblazoned in the center with a peace sign, the 8-year-old Our Lady of Grace Catholic School student scans the room, sizing up the competition with steely eyes. An iron-jawed competitor, he shrugs his shoulders when asked about his formula for success.

Whether rock, paper, scissors is a game of skill or luck remains a matter of controversy, though one has to wonder whether those who say strategy doesn’t matter are bluffing to set their opponents up for defeat.

‘“It’s psychology definitely,’” says Maurice Hicks, a 20-year-old UNCG student.

‘“I disagree,’” says his 19-year-old sister Leila Hicks, who attends UNC-Pembroke. ‘“Some five year old will win and beat people with Ph.D.s.’”

Either way, important life decisions are determined through the mysterious deliberations of a rock, paper, scissors throw.

‘“This is how I decided which college I went to,’” says Daniel Keller, a Southwest High School alum. ‘“It was between State and Chapel Hill.’”

He gestures to his friend, Sean O’Sullivan, an engineering student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who operates by the handle of ‘Gunsmoke.’

‘“I played him to try to get him to attend State and room with me,’” Gunsmoke says. ‘“I lost, so he went to UNC.’”

The first-round matches go fast and don’t always carry a lot of drama. The contestants square off over a card table draped with a red cloth emblazoned with the skull and crossbones. The referee extends a thumb for every point scored by the contenders until one them takes two out of three. Then the contestants go until one wins two out of three matches and advances to the next level.

A young man with an American flag shirt loses to a rising fifth grader from Charlotte named Sheridan Lea. Keller falls to Joe Sartore, a 6 year old who, like Forde, attends Our Lady of Grace. Rashid gets eliminated by a young boy, grips the tablecloth and stalks off. Gunsmoke advances to the next round. After a close match with a twentysomething-aged opponent, Forde prevails, jaw clenched. Stuckey goes down to a 14-year-old runner from Charleston, SC named Gina DiPierro, proving that once again the Fists of Fury lack staying power. Leila Hicks fights a close match, throwing scissors to scissors at the last moment before going down.

The youngsters seem to have an uncanny knack for keeping their cool, operating on relaxed, organic instinct while the adults seem to get jumpy and psyched out more easily.

‘“I think they have an advantage because nobody wants to beat ’em,’” says referee Brian Crean. ‘“You can’t win against kids ‘— even if you win.’”

In the second round, the Sartore kid bests a college-aged woman who wears her hair free like a hippie. Rocksolid and Stuckey go toe to toe, winning one apiece before Rocksolid prevails. Next Forde, who is biting his nails, goes up against a kid named Tyler. The older boy wins, and Forde retreats to his mother for consolation. Joe Garrigan, the runner-up in 2004, nods his head side to side and advances to the third round.

The drama level jumps by the double digits when Mateema LeRoy squares off against Danny Tarver of Atlanta. LeRoy kisses her ring, and Tarver whips out a leather glove ‘— an illegal aid, as the referee determines. The opponents throw the same signs at each other, leading to an impasse. They go one to one, and then to the tiebreaker. LeRoy wipes the imaginary sweat from her forehead and Tarver finds himself unable to control a tremor in his hand. When LeRoy prevails, Tarver crumbles to the floor in humiliation. LeRoy gestures for him to come to her and she kisses his cheek as she locks him in a loving embrace.

‘“Ah, sometimes it just doesn’t work out like you think it should,’” says Pete Schroth, the master of ceremonies and proprietor of the Green Bean.

In the third round, Lea eliminates another kid in a close match. Sartore demolishes Gunsmoke as his father counsels, ‘“C’mon, Joe. Focus, baby.’”

The final match comes down to a guy named Chris Burns and Sheridan Lea, the fifth grader from Charlotte. Burns drops to his knees to meet his opponent at her level. Both are looking skittish. Lea looks like she’s trying to wait out Burns, and the referee calls for a redo because their throws are out of synch. Finally, Lea throws ‘paper’ to Burns ‘rock.’ She leaps into the air, high fives Burns and hugs her father.

For those who lost and those who never contended, there’s always next year.

‘“Just have a lot of faith in yourself and practice,’” Lea counsels. ‘“That’s what led me to the top and maybe it will work for you too.’”

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