Are school fight clubs a widespread phenomenon?

A few weeks ago, I read this article by Kate Handler in The Globe and Mail. It alleges that so-called school fight clubs–unsupervised fights a la Fight Club, the movie–are a widespread phenomenon in Canadian schools.

Here’s the evidence the article presents:

The phenomenon is widespread, and alleged fight clubs have been dismantled in Orangeville and Brantford, Ont., Milford, N.S., and earlier this year at the University of Manitoba. Fighters usually volunteer, but a case where an 18-year-old boy was pulled from his bike and forced to fight made headlines last spring in Texas.

The bouts are usually recorded on camera phones and the videos posted online. A YouTube search for “school fight clubs” yields more than 4,000 results, including a video posted by students in England that looks very much like the Whitby video.

Ms. Handler also interviews a superintendent of school safety and security for Durham District School Board in Ontario. So she cites five Canadian incidents and quotes some YouTube search results.

YouTube as evidence?

Are those a satisfactory indication of a widespread phenomenon? I don’t think five fights make a trend. That leaves us with the YouTube search results, which feels very much like grasping at straws, doesn’t it?

After all, those search results are full of legitimate martial arts classes, riffs on the movie and school fight songs. There are also plenty of actual school yard fights, but how many of them are in Canada? If you pick a random page of the results (I chose page seven, but here’s 10 or 14), the majority of them are not evidence of school fight clubs.

Consider, also, that there are nearly 9000 YouTube search results for “school dance club”, yet only about 2000 results for “school glee club”. Does that make fighting twice as popular as choir, but half as popular as dance?

Other sources of evidence?

What information might have been more convincing? How about a comment from provincial or federal government officials, validating that school fight clubs are a growing and worrying trend? Or a researcher who can speak to the scope of the problem. Ideally, there would be some peer-reviewed research on the subject, but that’s naturally going to be hard to find if school fight clubs are a brand new issue.

I emailed Ms. Handler to ask if she’d done other reporting or had other evidence to back up her claim. I followed up twice, but haven’t heard back.

Are school fight clubs a widespread phenomenon? I can’t claim to know. A cynic might point out that it’s in The Globe’s best interests to make a sensational story about misbehaving children seem like a national trend. Have they done that here? What do you think?

UPDATE: On a fourth attempt, I received a response from Ms. Hammer. I’ve asked whether I can quote her response in this post.


  1. The first I heard of it was 2005-2006. I became aware that a number of Grade 10 boys (in my class) had had ‘staged’ fights on school property. The fights were recorded, watched by many (girls and boys) and did result in injury–although the participants seemed willing and knew they were being recorded. The videos (YouYube, I believe) were subsequently discovered under/attached to the school name and were discovered by a teacher/parent/administrator….Staff members were made aware of it and thus began the policy/punishment discussion. Don’t recall that punishment was given out but the discussion was brought forward–to students as well. If I remember correctly, the concern from the school/school district perspective was liability on school property. Have heard of it relatively often but anecdotally with YouTube being the evidence…Would be a good study for some grad student.

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