GREENVILLE — Walking to class one morning, Sterling-Wolf Ayers performed a ritual practiced by countless love-struck teenagers in innumerable high school hallways: He held his girlfriends hand.
The gesture caught the eye of a vice principal, who told the couple twice to knock it off. Ayers pleaded his case all the way to the principal, but walked away feeling his affections had been unjustly curbed.
So a few days into the school year, the junior at J.H. Rose High School took his cause to social media, starting his own Facebook page dedicated to the protection of hand-holding. So far, it has garnered 31 likes and a string of comments.
Lets fight for our hand-holding rights and more! writes Ayers, 16.
The Pitt County school system, which includes J.H. Rose, has no official policy that bars grasping mitts. Principal Charlie Langley said he has no problem with the practice, common in high schools. He said that Ayers conduct was flagged only because it went beyond hand-holding, but he didnt elaborate and Ayers insists that nothing transpired besides palm-to-palm contact.
Ayers wasnt disciplined, Langley said; only reminded that students need to follow teachers instructions.
But the dust-up in Greenville illustrates the tricky regulation of public affection, subject to local morality standards.
In the spring, Tennessees legislature passed a law allowing parents to sue if schools permitted gateway sexual activity, which critics blasted for effectively banning hand-holding and hugs.
Wake County schools prohibit any behavior that is overly affectionate, begging the questions, whats overly, and who decides? Students kiss each other in school plays. Athletes and coaches pat backs, and even behinds. Wheres the line?
If a teacher tells you to stop, you stop, Langley said. Its the judgment of the adult. If its rubbing up against each other ...
The first step down the precarious road of teenage romance comes when wooer and wooed clasp hands.
Thousands of popular songs celebrate the simple joy of locking fingers, from the Beatles (I want to hold your hand ...), to Diana Ross ( Reach out and touch somebodys hand ...), to Sonny & Cher (So put your little hand in mine ...).
Science shares the enthusiasm. Research shows that hand-holding can reduce stress, build trust, inspire strength and improve overall mood.
In a 2006 study, neuroscientists showed that stressed-out women find quick relief at the touch of their husbands hands. Last fall, an Iowa couple married for 72 years died holding hands.
I get misty, the old song goes, just holding your hand.
In Greenville, Ayers said nothing more than palms touched in the halls of J.H. Rose. A vice principal grabbed her own hands and pulled them apart, he said, indicating Ayers and his girlfriend should do the same. They followed her instructions until they turned a corner, then got another warning.
Ayers said he argued to several administrators that nothing in the student conduct code prohibits hand-holding. Several times, he said, he was told that all rules dont need to be written down.
Once, he said, he was told jokingly that the school could start a new rule and name it after him.
I would love for that to happen, he said.
But accounts from the administration differ.
He probably wouldnt have been told to stop if it was just hand-holding, schools spokeswoman Heather Mayo said.
But along with the thrill of young love, Ayers is now feeling the rush that comes from taking action a hand-holder for the people.