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A chant and a fist in a face

In the movies, slamming a fist into a face sounds like a SMACK. In the movies, one fist in the face is no big deal.

Maybe that's why a Hillsborough High School shop teacher got punched in the face by a student on Wednesday. Maybe that's why some students in the homeroom class were chanting: "Hit him. Hit him."

A fist in the face. It's no big deal _ unless you were there and heard the sound of the blow and saw the teacher's blood spreading on the floor.

William Moore is a 55-year-old welding teacher with sandy hair and an expanding waistline. He wears blue jeans to work most days and a dress shirt, no tie.

The toughest part of Moore's day is around 9:30 a.m. For 10 minutes, he is a homeroom teacher. His job is taking the roll. For the 25 to 30 10th-grade students _ with last names that run from A to G _ homeroom is happy hour.

Moore spent most of his 10 minutes raising his voice, trying to keep some order. Sometimes, he had to yell.

The welding classroom is small. There aren't enough desks, so some of the homeroom students stand. The classroom looks into the welding shop through a wide glass window. There is a door that locks from the classroom side.

Wednesday, before taking the roll, Moore called a student into the welding shop to scold him for stalking out of homeroom the day before.

They talked calmly for perhaps four minutes and then an argument erupted.

Students, watching through the wide window, could see the boy forcing the teacher back toward a metal tool box. They could see the boy tapping the teacher's face with his outstretched finger.

Moore tried to push the boy out of the way so he could escape. The boy pushed him back. The door to the classroom was locked, and Moore pulled out his keys to unlock it. The boy swatted the keys from the teacher's hand.

That's when the homeroom students said they could see the fear on William Moore's face.

A girl tried to push open the door to let Moore out, but the boy inside slammed it shut. Even with the door closed, the boy could hear about 10 of his fellow students encouraging him to throw a punch.

"Hit him," they chanted. "Hit him."

A student pushed on the door again, and again the boy slammed it shut. Then, with his friends yelling for a fight, he turned and slammed his fist into Moore's face, just below his nose. The punch landed with a sickening THUD that could be heard through the glass window and the locked door.

The punch sent Moore sideways, driving his face into the glass. It shook the window. Moore fell back against the metal box. Then, he toppled, like a falling tree, onto the concrete floor.

You could hear that sound too. A hard, final CRACK.

The boy didn't stay around to watch him fall. He ran out a back door of the welding shop.

Moore's face was pasty white. Blood ran from his mouth and nose. Lots of blood spread across the floor under his head. He was unconscious. His skull fractured.

Two girls ran to the office to call 911. Another girl knelt beside the bloodied, unconscious teacher. She lifted his head in her arms and cried.

Other teachers rushed in. They got the students back into the classroom and did what teachers do in a crisis _ they called roll. While Moore bled in the next room, some of his students laughed.

"This is not a laughing matter," one teacher snapped.

Later, the story rocketed around the historic school. "Mr. Moore got hit!" students said. For some reason, that was funny.

William Moore will survive this fist in the face. He told his doctors he doesn't remember what happened.

Hillsborough High School will continue doing its business. The boy, now in custody, likely will be expelled.

Hillsborough's students will remember the punch.

So will the teachers. They will remember that one punch can almost kill a man. And they will remember that some of the students in their classes are the same ones who chanted: "Hit him! Hit him!"

Paul Wilborn is a member of the Times editorial board and is based in Tampa.

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