Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Don't Tell Roger Goodell About These New Playgrounds

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating piece on how modern playground are - wait for it - actually getting MORE DANGEROUS and RISKY.... on purpose!
The child who insists on running up the slide at the playground is doing it for a good reason.
Chances are he's uninspired and trying to create more of a challenge for himself. And if the child is 9 or 10 years old, he is likely fully bored by the swings, slides and climbing gear.

Some child-development experts and parents say decades of dumbed-down playgrounds, fueled by fears of litigation, concerns about injury and worrywart helicopter parents, have led to cookie-cutter equipment that offers little thrill. The result, they say, is that children are less compelled to play outside, potentially stunting emotional and physical development and exacerbating a nationwide epidemic of childhood obesity.

Some psychologists suggest that not exposing children to risk can result in increases in anxiety and other phobias. Children who never climb trees, for example, are more likely to develop a fear of heights, according to a study in Norway. And encouraging free play, in an age of structured activities and computer games, is believed to be important in helping children develop physical and cognitive competencies, creativity and self-worth.
When I was a kid on the playgrounds of Spring Hill Elementary, on the "Mean Streets" of McLean, VA - 22102 - we played the following (awesome) games.

Without ANY supervision or organization from adults.

1. Greek Dodge
This was two groups of kids, in a rectangular court. One red rubber voit playground ball. The game began with two "enders" who were outside the court. You tried to dodge the ball as it was whipped at you, your head, your body, your FACE - as hard as possible. If you CAUGHT the ball, then then the thrower was "out". If you got hit, you were out. Game proceeded until one side prevailed. Good fun!

Two Memories: On the court we played, there was a fair amount of finely milled gray gravel that spilled over from an adjacent play area. It made one end of the court, about as slippery as a freshly zambonied NHL rink. Good fun! Also, Ronnie Kerns was a little fireplug of a kid, who was damn near impossible to get out with any throw that he saw coming. The kid was a black hole for that stupid red rubber dodge ball. Amazing. Why did we call it "Greek" dodge? Have no idea. Seems like ordinary dodge ball.

2. Tower Tag
This was a cool piece of playground equipment, about 10 feet tall (it seemed much bigger as kids, but then again, we were small little snots at that age) that featured a 6x6 platform on top with two chain link "ropes" surrounding it like a boxing ring. The "ladders" on the sides of this tower were also a webs of chains. Who knows what was "intended" by the makers of this tower (climb up gently and a have a nice little look around?) but we as kids decided to play full blown "tag" on it. Which means kids were scurrying all up and down this thing like spiders on crack to avoid getting tagged.

Best Memory: Andy Baughman, a polite, well dressed kid, who was pretty damn quick and athletic when pressed, was so intent on evading a tag one time, he did a full FLIP over the top rope, and fell the full 10 feet flat onto his back! Right onto that non-shock-absorbing finely milled gray playground gravel. The whole playground stopped suddenly in a hush. Luckly, ol' Andy was only 'shaken up'. "Tower Tag" was immediately banned by the (likely annoyed) teachers who were momentarily distracted from their gossiping near the school doors, and the next September the ol' chainlink tower.... was gone. Just like that.

So yeah, I guess it IS good that some people are seeing the value in un-pussifying the North American schoolyard playground. Ronnie Kerns is probably a stuntman, and Andy Baughman a CEO.


  1. we also played greek dodge though we called it battle ball. I remember purposely throwing it at everyones face as hard as i could, or if a kid was running you tried to hit his lower legs to up-end him.

    we had this maze of metal bars about 30 ft. wide by 15-20 ft. tall from what I can recall. It was a big old intimidating rusting looking strutcure. We called ith the monkey bars. The sole purpose of this was to just climb and hang like monkeys. I can't even tell you how many kids would fall thru the middle and bounce from bar to bar until they landed on the black top. Lot of busted up mouths on that thing. It was ripped out in the early 80's and replace with a soccer field. (argh!)

    Another thing we like to do is kick the red kick balls on the school roof, you had to have a strong leg as not all kids could do it and if you did it word got around the school. It was kind of a badge of honor.

  2. best dodgeball memory - 30 years ago, a friend trying to escape a speeding rubberball at his thighs jumped and did the splits to avoid it, the ball sailed high and got him at the height of his jump right in the jewels - uncontrollable laughing by all that saw it ensued, he cried.

  3. Bombardment -- same as Dodgeball with 2 exceptions. Senior year HS, late Spring 1983 with Senioritis rampant, gym teacher football coach) instituted "head shots only" rule. Yes, had to be above shoulders to count! 2nd exception, "The Gauntlet"! If you swore during Bombardment, you had to run the gauntlet. The entire class formed 2 lines facing each other, and all 5 or 6 balls or however many there were were all in play. The offender began at one end of the gym and had run right down the middle of these 2 lines. Balls firing away from both sides. Those smart enough figured out to just sprint. Others, usually out of fear and maybe not all that athletic, would slow down or stop to try to cover up. Big mistake. Big... Huge...
    We enjoyed the gauntlet almost every class period.

  4. I can't use the name of the game because it's not PC. The game was simple, a football and group of kids. One person throws the football up in the air, and the person that catches has to run away or else get tackled. Once he was tackled, that person then threw the ball up, and the process continued.

    1. Has no one come up with a replacement name for "Smear the ____"?? Or is the game just not played at all anymore?

  5. We also called it bombardment on the mean streets of Menasha, WI with one rule difference. If you caught someone's ball, that person was out and you got someone back. And if you used a ball to block one thrown at you and it was dropped or knocked out of your hands, you were out as well. Head shots were encouraged.

  6. We used to play this game called 'Release'. This was a neighborhood game, not a school game. Break up into two teams. One team would be the 'it' team and would count to sixty. The other team would disperse and hide. This was typically played in a contiguous section of four suburban houses where people could hide behind houses and trees.

    The members of the 'it' team would then seek to find and tackle each member of the other team. Once a player was tackled, they would go to jail, which was a designated circle area in the center of the playing area. The players in jail (those who have been tackled) could be freed if a player on their team who had not been tackled would run through the circle and yell release. Once the 'it' team had every member of the other team in jail, the game would end and the teams would switch sides.

  7. Yesterday I raked all our leaves into a huge pile at the base of our swingset slide. My two boys love it. Next thing I know they and the neighborhood kids are diving head first off the slide into the pile. Half of me shuddered while the other half said, "F*@k yeah!"

  8. Alexandria/Mount Vernon VA -right down the way. Greek Dodge ball was also in effect at Washington Mill Elementary. We had both flavors, standard dodge was out in an open court, but the Greek derivative was like PRO 2 on the coleco handheld: the targets had to stand against a brick wall avoiding the initial strike AS WELL AS any rebound from the wall. The sound of the high velocity red playground ball hitting brick wall millimeters from the ear/skull still haunts my memory, bringing a wry smile each time

  9. We called it "Slaughterball," which is much better than dodgeball, scatter or any other synonym I ever heard after moving out of Detroit. Played it with a white AMF volleyball, which made a wondrous kettledrum-like "DOOM!" sound when you caught someone squarely in the chest or back. Heh-heh, can still hear it.