Do you recall your childhood days of playing dodgeball during gym class? Leaping to the left and right, diving to the ground, trying to escape elimination while dodgeballs streak past and constantly plotting your next attack. Dodgeball has always been a staple of American playground competition but the nature of the “human targeting” game has recently drawn significant criticism.
A New Hampshire school district recently eliminated dodgeball and other “human targeting” activities, citing concerns that such games foster violence and bullying. The Windham school board voted 4-1 in favor of removing the game from the gym class curriculum after parents allegedly complained that their children were being bullied during the game. In particular, Windham’s superintendent noted that such games where “inconsistent” with the districts efforts to encourage respect among students. The meeting took place March 19th and marked what is believed to be the first district in New Hampshire to ban such activities. However, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (“NASPE”) released a position statement in 2006, finding that dodgeball was not an appropriate game for K-12 students, stating that such activities do not permit complete participation from every student, particularly those who may be less agile then their peers. The NASPE found that “[t]he students who are eliminated first in dodgeball are typically the ones who most need to be active and practice their skills. Many times these students are also the ones with the least amount of confidence in their physical abilities.” An activity encouraging the elimination of “weaker players” first is contrary to the goals of building student self-confidence. However, others have criticized the school board’s decision as overly protective. Many have noted that most kids enjoy playing dodgeball and the use of soft Nerf balls apparently addresses many of the safety concerns originally posed by the game.
In a 2001 article, the New York Times noted the increasing number of schools that were enacting bans against “aggressive games” such as dodgeball. The article stated that an Austin, Texas school district was the first to ban dodgeball finding that it was too violent for school children. Additionally, schools in Florida, New York, Maryland and Massachusetts had enacted bans or some means of discouraging such games.
If your institution has questions or concerns about this topic and you would like further information, please email Cynthia Augello at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 516-357-3753.
A special thanks to Cynthia Thomas a law clerk at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for help with this post.