Someone sent the AJC a tweet asking that we open up the story about the Gwinnett family seeking to stop a PE game they deemed dangerous for reader discussion. I didn’t post on it yesterday when I first read the piece because it wasn’t clear to me what exactly happened.
I don’t know if this particular game is any more dangerous to children than other playground games, as kids get hurt in tag and soccer as well. I know that many of you are going to argue that this is helicopter parenting, but I can understand the frustration of parents whose child has had his summer snatched away by a gym class injury.
But if one child’s bad experience could squelch a sport, schools would virtually have to ban almost everything except catch with a Nerf ball.
Here is the AJC story:
Tyler Strickland is spending the sweltering days of July wrapped in a sling from his shoulder to his wrist, unable to swim, cut his food or bang out a tune on his electric guitar.
The wiry 14-year-old, who has to take pills to manage pain from a sports injury, says that he hurt his shoulder during a Gwinnett County Schools physical education class playing a game his parents want to see banned.
The Twin Rivers Middle School student said he and classmates were asked to participate in a souped-up version of tee ball for teens. They swung a wooden bat at a volleyball perched on a traffic cone during gym class.
His parents say that the force of the bat against the ball caused their son to experience debilitating shoulder pain that later required surgery. According to medical records, the student suffered two tendon tears and a partially dislocated shoulder. Three staples were placed in his arm to reattach his bicep muscles.
“I believe it was an idiotic thing to ask kids to do,” said the teen’s stepfather, Ken Gittens, a veteran Gwinnett firefighter. “For any action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It would be just common sense that if you whack a volleyball as hard as you can, the bat is going to bounce back and you are probably going to get hurt. Someone who has gone to college should know better.”
Gwinnett school system risk management officials have no record of the April incident.
However, Strickland’s mother, Jill Gittens, kept a copy of the e-mail she sent on June 29 alerting school officials that her son required medical rehabilitation for a shoulder injury that occurred at the gym and then later surgery after the source of the pain was diagnosed. An accident investigation was not found among four reports of other student injuries in gym class at Twin Rivers in 2009 and 2010.
Gwinnett school officials did not respond Tuesday to a list of questions on the game or whether there have been similar incidents.
Gittens said she wants the game stopped so that other students don’t get hurt. The batting exercise is usually performed with a partially deflated volleyball to help players improve their swings.
An official with the National Association for Sport and Physical Education said the game isn’t listed among dangerous activities the group bans, such as dodgeball, but it isn’t one they’d endorse, either.
“Personally, I would probably never do that,” said Dennis Docheff, president-elect of NASPE and a University of Central Missouri professor. “I don’t think it’s an inappropriate practice for the sake of swinging a bat at a ball. But at the middle school level, I think they are ready to hit a moving target.”
Some students may be more predisposed to this kind of injury, said Dr. Jon Hyman. “If a child is loose jointed they are going to be at a high risk to have a shoulder slip out of socket,” Hyman said.
Tyler, who is more artistic than athletic, has been seeing doctors since April.
“I was in a lot of pain,” he said. “Even if I didn’t do anything, my shoulder would hurt. I still am in pain.”
The teen agreed to surgery in late June after weeks of being unable to close a door or pick up his backpack without his right shoulder throbbing. Dr. Charles Morris of Lawrenceville Resurgens Orthopedics performed the procedure that repaired the tendon tear and detached bicep muscles.
Is one child’s injury enough to ban a gym game?
“I’m not sure I’d indict the act,” said Dr. Scott Gillogly of Atlanta Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center, head team physician for the Falcons and Atlanta Thrashers. “This can happen in any sport. It can happen goofing around. You can recover pretty darn well.”
As Tyler recovers, he has to sleep sitting up. His mobility is limited and so is his summer fun.
“I have to help him wash his hair and get dressed,” Jill Gittens said. “Tyler has had to endure something he should not have had to endure at 14 years of age. He lost out on summer.”