Dodging the dodgeball debate


I’m crushed this morning. I just learned that there is an ongoing assault on what I thought was just about the most fun in our elementary school gym class and recess: dodgeball.

We played dodgeball in the Walnut Creek Elementary School gym every chance we could. Half the class on one side of the gym, the other half lined along the wall on the other side – you couldn’t cross the half-court line. Balls started flying and if one hit you, you were out. If you caught the ball, the person throwing the ball was out. Throws to the head were off limits, of course. The goal was not to hurt anyone, but to be the last man standing.

You absolutely did not want to try and catch balls zinged by Abraham Mast, Keith Gause or Mark Bartlett, although my friends Leah Schrock and Lauren Mast could, and did – and flung a mean dodgeball themselves.

There was great strategy about whom to target first, and that the moment when the ball thrower hurled his ball, he was at his most vulnerable.

Man, we loved that game!

But now the merits of dodgeball in gym class are being questioned. It’s too brutal, too unsafe, too humiliating, doesn’t teach anything, and puts too much emphasis on winning, say opponents.

“In my opinion, dodgeball doesn’t accomplish anything that couldn’t be done in a different way – without the safety concerns that dodgeball creates,” says Penn State kinesiologist Karen Hill. “You must provide for the physical and psychological safety of students.”

Howell Wechsler, a health scientist for the Centers for Disease Control, agrees. Games that single out the weak and reward the skilled should be replaced, he said.

Children “shouldn’t be standing around while others play,” he was quoted in a 1999 Philadelphia Inquirer news article. “They shouldn’t be eliminated from games.”

But we loved that game!

And so did everyone I asked in a very scientific poll of Farm and Dairy employees. (Although maybe I should throw out the response of reporter Annie Santoro, who sent a classmate to the hospital during a game of dodgeball. “She shouldn’t have ducked,” Annie said in self defense.)

Is there a redeeming value to dodgeball? We weren’t concerned about what we were learning, we just liked to get out and run and throw and catch – to play. Sure, I could argue that it’s rough and someone could get hurt, but the same could be said of a lot of other phys ed activities.

A quick Internet search served up this father’s perspective on dodgeball: “As simple as this little game is, it really provides values to our children. That even though you get hit by something in your life, you get up, dust yourself off, and say ‘That’s OK, I’ll be in the next game.”

I like that. Maybe that’s why we loved the game. There was always the hope that this could be the game, this could be the day, when you landed a surprise shot on Keith Gause and won. If not, you’d still be in the next game.

Another debate observer offers this voice of reason, that perhaps says it best: “Playing dodgeball, like other sports, is competitive. We should not play with the intent to hurt another. But wanting to win is important for many of us. In the real world, one can also win in business, love and life without intentionally attempting to hurt another person. We need to find the right balance.”

Man, we loved that game!


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