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Dodgeball Has No Place in Our Schools

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DODGEBALL
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I can still vividly remember the joy and excitement I felt after hearing my gym teacher say, "We're playing dodgeball today." I didn't realize it at the time, but for many of my classmates, hearing those same words elicited dread and terror.

I was a multi-sport jock and playing dodgeball in school meant I could use my size and athletic ability to pummel my less physically-gifted classmates before ultimately battling my fellow jocks for dodgeball supremacy. It was a testosterone-laced high -- sanctioned by the school nonetheless.

Looking back, I can't fathom what the educational value of dodgeball could possibly have been. I also have great empathy for the 98-pound weakling who cowered in the corner hoping the inevitable missile coming his way wouldn't permanently separate his head from his body. And the heavy kid with glasses who wasn't agile enough to avoid being the depository for five or six balls fired at him simultaneously.

It's been about a decade now since the movie DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story was released. It received decent reviews and enjoyed a pretty good run at the box office. I saw it and while a good part of the movie was sub-juvenile level, there were definitely some laugh-out-loud scenes.

The problem is, the movie spurred a resurgence of dodgeball in our nation's schools at a time when we can least afford it. We've all heard the statistics about our kids being more overweight and obese than ever before. Thanks to video games, the Internet, cable and satellite TV, smart phones, iPads, and the demise of bicycles, etc., kids aren't moving enough today. The combination of physical inactivity and poor nutrition has resulted in a bunch of out-of-shape children and adolescents in America. As a result, health issues like high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, once considered adult problems, are impacting kids at an astonishing rate today.

More than ever, kids need to hear the health and wellness messages inherent in a fitness-based physical education program. There's a growing mound of research that shows quality, daily physical education is the most cost effective way to reach virtually all our children, reduce obesity, and improve overall physical fitness. In addition, multiple studies show that physical education improves academic performance and decreases behavioral problems. Comprehensive PE programs can also help slow down the runaway healthcare costs in this country.

But quality physical education doesn't include dodgeball. While I certainly appreciate that some children -- and even some adults -- get enjoyment from the game of dodgeball, it simply doesn't represent developmentally appropriate content for school-based physical education programs. Dodgeball turns children into human targets, allows for bullying, and is humiliating for some students. Moreover, many students are eliminated from the game early, resulting in limited physical activity during the PE class period.

Perhaps Patches O'Houlihan, the coach of the underdog team of misfits in the movie DodgeBall, said it best: "Dodgeball is a game of humiliation, exclusion and degradation." Exactly. And while wacky Coach O'Houlihan said it with pride instead of disgust, he nailed the essence of the game. In short, dodgeball is to quality, daily physical education like professional wrestling shows are to the sport of wrestling.

I've talked to adults in their 40s who still get a nervous jolt in the pit of their stomach whenever they think about dodgeball in school. They remember being pounded with balls and then sitting on the sidelines while the athletes fought it out for the rest of the period. They were left with bad memories, if not emotional scars, and dodgeball certainly didn't inspire them to lead physically active lifestyles once they got out of school.

A top-notch physical education program is about meeting the needs of all students, not just the athletically inclined. It's about getting kids active today and excited about the lifetime benefits of health and wellness. It means emphasizing fitness and physical well-being, not team sports. It's about assessing students on their progress in reaching personal physical activity and fitness goals, using technology such as heart rate monitors, pedometers and customized software. And it means eliminating activities, including dodgeball, that humiliate students.

I'm not advocating a ban on dodgeball. If there's a market for it, so be it. I have no problem with private dodgeball organizations or clubs operating outside of school. But there's simply no place for dodgeball in our publicly-financed schools.

If we are to have any hope of avoiding a medical disaster with this generation of kids, one area that must improve drastically is our country's physical education system. We're at a point in our nation's history where the need to educate young people about the importance of physical activity and a healthy lifestyle has never been greater.

As such, we simply can't afford to waste precious physical education class time on activities like dodgeball.

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