COLUMN: Risks a necessary part of childhood

Prepare for some head scratching, because you just can’t make this stuff up.

Prepare for some head scratching, because you just can’t make this stuff up.

An elementary school in a large city somewhere out east  – I won’t say which to save its residents embarrassment, but it’s hockey team (which some would say is an embarrassment in itself) wears our national emblem in blue on its sweaters – has banned balls from its playgrounds.

Yes, that iconic, ubiquitous, bouncing toy is now deemed too dangerous for the playground at this school of about 350 children.

Get your emergency kits out and prepare for the apocalypse, ’cause I’d say that’s a pretty fair sign it’s a’comin’.

According to media reports from this eastern mecca, the centre of the known universe, according to many of its inhabitants, this school banned all balls other than those made of sponge or nerf after a mom allegedly suffered a concussion-inducing soccer ball blow to the head while picking up her child.

Apparently, this school’s playground is a small, walled-in area that becomes crowded with kids and their deadly arms flinging balls willy-nilly, risking everyone’s health and welfare.

It’s been a consistent, nagging issue, and efforts to get the kids to recognize their own throwing strength just weren’t working, a school trustee told reporters.

Thus the hard line on potentially deadly round missiles.

Another trustee added that the ban wasn’t actually new, it just wasn’t being enforced.

It’s tough to say whether the action is heavy-handed or reasonable without witnessing the dangerous dodgeball chaos on the playground, but you’ve got to think there might be better options.

Limiting the number of balls on the field of play, for one? Or more stringent refereeing by supervisors on the sidelines?

Given this country’s growing obesity epidemic among people both young and old, you’d think we’d be doing everything possible to encourage children to stay active.

Taking all but the most innocuous of balls off the playground seems to run counter to the goal of improving physical fitness.

But this Toronto school (oops, wasn’t going to give away the location, was I?) isn’t alone in its bashfulness toward balls and other potentially injurious forms of play.

Other Ontario school have prohibited balls after specific incidents, although they were reportedly overturned due to pressure from the students.

Still other school have apparently banned gymnastics, dodge ball (naturally), floor hockey and even that terrifying of schoolyard pastimes – tag.

Sorry, tag?

A children’s game of tag is about as dangerous as a pillow fight (unless the pillow cases also contain the kids’ sports trophies, as a friend of mine once did to her sister with painful consequences).

The bottom line is that yes, injuries can occur when kids are at play.

I’m reminded of the old Dan Aykroyd/Candice Bergen skit from Saturday Night Live in which Aykroyd plays Mr. Mainway, an unscrupulous toy manufacturer, appearing on a consumer reports show, who produces such favourites as the ‘Bag O’ Glass’ and ‘Johnny Switchblade’ doll.

The skit ends with Mainway feigning choking on a little foam play ball.

That’s way, way over the top, which is why the skit is humorous, but it also hints at a grain of truth.

Our attempts to manage the risks to children are going into overkill and are in fact putting them more at-risk of both injury and more sedentary lifestyles resulting in serious health issues.

There’s no way kids should be playing with switchblade dolls or shards of glass, but if we’re going to take away balls and anything else that could, maybe, possibly, potentially, at some point bring them harm, we might as well just ban childhood altogether.

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