Last week while perusing the daily news from around the country I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read one headline: The Windham School Board in New Hampshire had decided to ban dodgeball! Dodgeball??? I loved to play dodgeball when I was a kid growing up in the 1970s. I was a pretty good player, at the dodging part, at least. As I read the particulars of the report many questions came to my mind. A handful of parents, it stated, had gone to the school’s administration with concerns about bullies misusing the game to pick on their children. The dodgeball games were happening during gym class. Had the parents gone as a group to talk to the PE teacher? Where was the PE teacher when these dodgeball games were happening? As a former teacher, it isn’t too hard to observe and figure out in any classroom who the smart kids are, who the popular kids are, who the loners are, and who the bullies are. A teacher worth their paycheck would find a way to curb the bullies’ antics in a PE class. There are rules in the game of dodgeball, such as all the throws of the ball have to land below the waist to avoid hits landing on students’ faces or heads. Had those rules been explained? Were those rules being enforced? If the rules had been explained to the students and were being broken by one or several students, if I was the PE teacher, I’d make those students who had thrown a ball that made a non-allowed hit to sit out a round or two. The article said a handful of parents had complained. A handful? That’s not a lot of parents, honestly. If 15-20 parents had complained, that would be a lot, and it would be pretty easy to come to a conclusion that there was a problem in the PE class. At the school board meeting, where this ultimately ended up, were the parents who had no problem with dodgeball allowed to speak? The report didn’t say. It did mention that a couple years ago the traditional red, rubber balls that the Windham schools used for dodgeball were replaced with softer, foam balls. So the kids were being hit with softer balls to begin with!
At our daughter’s college orientation, there was a meeting for the incoming freshmen students’ parents. The college President spoke to us and he was not mincing words when he said our children were the first generation to have experienced “Helicopter Parents”. He didn’t mean we were a large group of secret helicopter owners and flyers. He meant that we, the parents, were notorious for hovering too much around our children. We tried to protect them from all hazards in the home when they were learning to crawl and walk. I can attest to laughing at a “Protect Your Child Forever From Every Bad House Hazard” type of catalog that I somehow got on the mailing list for when I saw a product being sold: knee pads to protect those crawling babies tender knees. That product made me laugh out loud. It’s a wonder I ever learned to crawl as I know my parents didn’t have knee pads to give me in 1965! Not only was my generation of parents guilty of overprotection of our children from dangers in the home, we were guilty of protecting our children from anything negative. Junior gets a poor grade, confront and blame the teacher. Demand that Junior be allowed to re-take that test or earn extra credit! Junior didn’t get that award at the spelling bee? Give every child a trophy for participating in it!
Thinking back to the President’s words and to the news story about dodgeball last week caused me to think that when parents try to protect their children from all negative experiences, it just sets the children up for a harder time when they’re adults and have to deal with those negative experiences life throws at them. Kids have to learn how to deal with some of life’s difficulties without always having mom and dad stepping in for them, trying to take or soften the blows.
Before I wrote this blog, I did a bit more reading about the school and its ban. Fortunately for the students who attend schools in the Windham School District, those students will have other opportunities to play dodgeball. Neighboring school districts have told the press that they allow dodgeball and don’t plan on banning it. In fact, two area high schools told a reporter that dodgeball remains one of the most popular of the intramural sports that their schools offer! Those two high schools near Windham, Pinkerton Academy and Londonderry High, have a charity dodgeball tournament each year, where they play against one another. Perhaps in the near future, those two high schools will invite Windham students to join them? That sounds like a winning plan.