- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

Add dodge ball to the list of don'ts schools have compiled in the past few years like don't bring an aspirin tablet or squirt gun to class.

The game encourages children to chuck big rubber balls at each other, and many school districts interpret this as an act of aggression.

Members of the Cecil County school board in northeast Maryland say "activities requiring human targets" are not appropriate for physical education. They could vote as early as next month to ban the game that has long been a schoolyard staple.

The board's five members are appointed by the governor for five-year terms and they elect a president and vice president at the annual meeting. The board postponed a vote on the ban last month so it could change the language of the proposal, which also could have included kickball a sport not under fire.

In Fairfax County, there is no official ban, but "we essentially say don't do it," said schools spokesman Paul Regnier. That extends to recess, as well.

"We do not promote dodge ball, and we tell physical education teachers that a game in which students are a target for a ball is not an appropriate game," he said. "I can't tell you that it never happens."

In fact, it's hard to find a local school district that doesn't discourage this tradition. It's all part of the new, friendlier face of gym class.

"I think it's a change for the better," said Terri McCauley, coordinator of physical education for Montgomery County public schools. "We try to get the kids to focus more on a mastery of skills and competing with self."

Dodge ball exists in many forms and goes by many names, like bombardment and Doctor Doctor.

It's a game in which players on one team try to eliminate players on another team by hitting them with a volleyball-size inflated ball. Players are typically lined up against a wall, and are forced to sit out if they get hit.

Those who love the game and couldn't get enough as children can join the National Amateur Dodge Ball Association, which hosts tournaments with adult teams.

Rick Hanetho, the association's director, understands there isn't much about the activity that is educational, but he insists players are not targets and considers the game a part of growing up.

"To even question dodge ball is silly," he said. "I think there are so many more important issues regarding youth sports in our country."

The instructors in his Illinois community don't schedule dodge ball, he said, but use the game as a backup activity.

"It's their favorite thing to do… . The kids go nuts," Mr. Hanetho said in between various radio and print interviews on the topic. "It's universal."

Ed Langan, Cecil County schools' athletic director, agrees.

"It's amazing the way kids play the game," he said. "Kids come out wringing wet, and that's our objective. We're not there trying to hurt anyone… . You can tell kids to go on the track, but they don't like it. You're fighting with them."

Like many school districts, Cecil County has replaced traditional gym classes with a friendlier approach favoring individual exercise regimens or games played by groups of only a few students.

"We don't want any kind of game that is exclusionary," said Mary Etta Reedy, director of education services for the school system. "We don't want anything that keeps you out and waiting."

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education, a Reston-based organization that consults with schools across the country, has gone so far as to name dodge ball as an inductee to its "Physical Education Hall of Shame."

"It's fine for recess or lunch or after school," said spokeswoman Paula Kun.

Other inductees to the Hall of Shame include Duck, Duck, Goose because many children remain inactive waiting to get picked and kickball because batters are on display for possible embarrassment, girls are often excluded and stronger throwers toss the ball too hard at weaker classmates.

The debate is perhaps most fiercely argued on the Internet, where pundits can remain anonymous.

"Sounds fun for those few that have mature throwing and catching patterns, but it sounds like torture for those that continue to get nailed by the ball," one teacher wrote on the Web site Teachers.net.

"I'm currently doing a research paper on dodge ball, and all I'm finding is a bunch of people whining and complaining," said another message. "So what's your problem? Too many kids getting hurt? They should learn to play before playing then."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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