Earlier this spring, the parents of an elementary school student sued a New York school district after the student broke his nose during a game of dodgeball in gym class.  The injured student wasn’t hit by a ball, but by a panicked classmate who ran around the gym aimlessly until his head crashed into the other student’s face.  The injured student’s parents filed a lawsuit against the district, claiming that there were “too many people and too many balls” and found fault that there was no “safe zone” or place for students who didn’t want to play.

Dodgeball under attack

This is not the first time that dodgeball has come under attack.  In 2006, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) issued a position statement stating its belief that dodgeball “is not an appropriate activity for k-12 school physical education programs.”  Although NASPE acknowledged that dodgeball allowed for the practice of important physical skills, it argued “the students who are eliminated first in dodgeball [the slower, less agile students] are typically the ones who most need to be active and practice their skills.”

In 2004, a New York student was injured when she became entangled with another student, fell on a hardwood floor and fractured her arm during a game of dodgeball in her second-grade gym class.  The district argued that the game was appropriate, safe and adequately supervised by a teacher.  The student’s family argued that, because of its known dangers, the game was inappropriate for young children. The court questioned the appropriateness of the game for second-grade children and denied the district’s motion for summary judgment.

An argument for dodgeball

There are others who believe that dodgeball has a place in the education of elementary-age students. Proponents of the game argue that a well-played game of dodgeball involves skill and strategy, and that it’s a beneficial game for kids to play because of the level of athleticism involved.  Others argue that it’s not such a bad thing when kids learn how to fail.  In 2001, The Weekly Standard published an article titled “What’s Wrong with Dodgeball: the new Phys Ed and the Wussification of America.”  In the article, the author argued that dodgeball, like other competitive sports, serves as a model for life, and that childhood should provide a place to prepare for adult life. Take away the dodgeball, he says, and the coddled children will be unprepared for the brutal real world, which doesn’t give everyone a trophy and where not everyone is a winner.

In 2009, HBO Real Sports ran the following segments entitled “The Dodgeball Debate” which provided an overview of these issues. 

A district’s options

In all seriousness, the decision of whether to ban dodgeball and other games from a district’s curriculum is a real decision that a district may be called upon to decide.  In spring 2013, a school board in New Hampshire voted to ban dodgeball and other “human-target games” from its curriculum, calling them violent games that promoted bullying.  More than 400 students signed a petition opposing the committee’s 4-1 ruling to eliminate the games from the district’s curriculum.  As a result, the board dedicated a committee of 10 people to a “Human Target Study,” which can be read in its entirety here.  The study recommended the reinstatement of such games, with a few caveats: using Nerf balls (not rubber); allowing students to opt out; throwing at stationary targets instead; and changing the names of several games.

Ultimately, the decision to allow or ban such games is left to local discretion. Your district will have to decide for itself whether the benefits associated with dodgeball and other “human-target games” outweigh the risks associated with such games.  Until then, the great debate wages on.

Posted by Sara Clark on 4/23/2014