What would you think if I were to tell you that basketballs, soccer balls, footballs, and even tennis balls were banned from school? I am fairly certain that crazy, ridiculous and absurd would come to mind, along with a plethora of other adjectives to describe the statement.
Sadly, this scenario exists today at a school in Toronto. Apparently a parent was hit in the head by a soccer ball, and suffered a concussion as a result of the impact. That, coupled with, and I quote from the article in the Toronto Star, “…“few serious incidents” in which staff and students have been hit, or come close to being struck, by flying balls.”
I wonder where the parent that sustained a concussion was standing, and what they were doing. Did he or she have his or her back turned to the playground or the area in which the soccer ball was being used? Was that parent chatting, instead of being engaged in what his or her child is doing?
There are inherent risks on the playground and in the gymnasium. Even under the watchful eye of the teacher, supervisor or parent, or taking all safety precautions, injuries sometimes happen. I fully expect to be hit by balls or other athletic equipment in my role as a PE teacher and coach, and understand the risks that I take sometimes. Participants in these activities realize this too, and don’t think twice about it. Getting hit by balls happens. The spokesperson and parents council claimed that the measure was both proactive and preventative in nature. We have already rid our schools and playgrounds of things like carousels, teeter totters and large climbing apparatuses over the past two decades. What is next? Removing all athletic and playground equipment as another proactive and preventative measure? Where does one draw the line? I realize that these statements are almost as absurd as the original decision to ban balls in the first place, but it does make one wonder whether this will happen in the future.
Although I would argue that it is common sense, students, parents and teachers alike should be cognizant of areas or games where injuries may occur, and take measures to minimize those risks. Rather than ban balls, the school should look at changing the parameters of the playground or the game to reduce the risk of being hit by a ball or other injury. By blocking off an area of the field or playground where “ball games” may occur, it should alleviate many of the issues that seem to be occurring at this school.
The school has apparently made a concession in the matter, and have agreed to allow the use of Nerf balls on the playground. However, I am not sure that it is much of a concession at all. Nerf balls typically are not very rugged, and are often modified to change or enhance the flight of the balls. For example, a Nerf soccer ball does not react in the same way as a traditional one does. It is a lot more difficult to attempt complex dribbling skills, and passes and shots with the balls are not as accurate as those with a traditional ball. Additionally, Nerf balls are awful in wet conditions, often turning into a soggy sponge. Will they actually work all that well in a Toronto winter?
Catherine Cameron, on her Participaction blog, has some great comments about the decision, and I echo a lot of her sentiments. Students at my school love playing with soccer balls and footballs outside. On any given day, we will have 2-3 games of soccer for various year groups going at a time, in addition to the intramural activities planned for the day. Skills and strategies taught in PE class and outside of school are practiced, redefined, redeveloped and shared amongst students in these informal games, thus improving not only their sport-specific skills, but their overall health and fitness. Why on earth would a school make the decision to eliminate one means of encouraging daily physical activity and reducing obesity and heart disease at a time when they are at an all time low? It is perplexing to say the least. I am hoping that this “preventative and proactive measure” is indeed only temporary as the spokesperson mentioned in the article, and that the ban is overturned in the near future.
What do you think about the school’s decision? Did they make the right call or were they out of line?