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Citing Bullying, District Bans 'Human-Target Games' Like Dodgeball

Can banning dodgeball cut down on bullying in schools? The Windham (N.H.) school district is about to find out.

The Windham school board voted 4-1 this month to ban dodgeball and other "human-target games" from the curriculum, citing the possibility of students ganging up on a particular student during such games.

A 2006 position statement from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) says dodgeball "is not an appropriate activity for K-12 school physical education programs," as it provides "limited opportunities for everyone in the class, especially the slower, less agile students who need the activity the most." While the association acknowledged that dodgeball does "provide a means of practicing some important physical skills," it notes that other games allow for similar skills without the use of humans as targets.

The Windham district had an assistant principal and a committee of physical education teachers evaluate the role of human-target games in its own curriculum (10 in total), specifically in regard to NASPE's six national standards for physical education. While seven of the 10 games in question met the NASPE standards, the committee concluded that NASPE's opposition to human-target games "supersedes any and all curriculum standards that are met with these games as currently designed," according to its report to the board.

When the board took up the issue of human-target games earlier this month, two members brought up bullying as a potential issue to consider. According to the meeting minutes, board member Michelle Farrell voiced concerns about students ganging up on other students, while board member Stephanie Wimmer said that if some students didn't want to participate in dodgeball or other target games, they're singled out from the rest of their classmates.

"We spend a lot of time making sure our kids are violence-free," said Windham Superintendent Henry LaBranche to The Eagle-Tribune. "Here we have games where we use children as targets. That seems to be counter to what we are trying to accomplish with our anti-bullying campaign."

Both Wimmer and Farrell also said some of the human-target games had inappropriate names. It's not clear which games they were referencing, although the Windham Middle School's game called "Slaughter" likely falls into that category.

Board member Dennis Senibaldi, the lone dissenting vote, said he couldn't support a ban on human-target games because the district already has a bullying policy in place.

"We have rules that are set in place to deal with bullying," he told the newspaper. "We don't need to ban an entire round of games just to enforce those rules."

A potential solution, he suggested, could be playing dodgeball or other games on a "point system" where students aren't eliminated immediately and can thus reap the benefits of physical activity for longer periods.

Windham might be the latest district to ban dodgeball, but educators have been grappling with similar issues for far longer. According to a 2001 Education Week article, districts were dropping dodgeball not only due to liability concerns, but also in fear of sending the wrong message to students.

"Dodgeball is one of those games that encourages aggression and the strong picking on the weak," said Neil Williams, the chairman of the health and physical education department at Eastern Connecticut State University, to former EdWeek reporter John Gehring. He admitted that despite his strong feelings against the game, he enjoyed it back in his schooling days.

"I was a skinny little runt of a guy, but I was incredibly sneaky and nasty in the game," Williams said.

Do you think the Windham district made the right move by banning dodgeball and other human-target sports? Share your thoughts below.

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