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Wednesday, June 26, 2002
Updated: June 27, 1:26 PM ET
Play nice, kids

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

We are one step closer toward raising a generation of paste-devouring Ralph Wiggums.

Ralph Wiggum
Is this what you want, wussies?
If you thought some schools went overboard when they banned dodge ball last year, consider this: A Santa Monica elementary school principal recently banned tag, saying the game can only be played under the strict supervision of physical education teachers and not at all during the lunch hour recess. That's due to: one, the risk of injury; and two, a "self-esteem issue," because whoever is "it" could be considered a "victim."

"We had some children who were not playing 'it' appropriately," Franklin elementary principal Pat Samarge said, adding that "Little kids were coming in and saying, 'I don't like it.' Children weren't feeling good about it."

Well, I should hope not. Tag is about the lamest of the playground games, involving none of the requisites of real sports: a ball, violence, fantasy leagues, fanatical Brazilians or corrupt French judges.

Every kid knows that chasing someone around the playground and trying to tag them isn't nearly as much fun as just standing there and throwing a rubber ball at their skull. That's why dodge ball is such a great game. It requires agility, lightning reflexes, hand-to-eye coordination, superb aim and a high pain threshold. Frankly, dodge ball is so entertaining it's amazing it hasn't caught on beyond the schoolyard. Imagine a game where Roger Clemens is supposed to hit Mike Piazza with a ball that Piazza can immediately fire back at Clemens, and you get just a taste of what dodge ball could be like at the professional level. I'm telling you, take dodge ball professional, and this company would have to add ESPN3 to the schedule.

And dodge ball is as peaceful as an Amish barn-raising compared with other popular schoolyard sports.

There is a certain sport that begins with the word "smear," where the object is not to gently "tag" someone, but instead to hunt him down in packs, tackle him to the ground, pile on the bodies and inflict pain until whoever is "it" -- and in this case, I think you could accurately use the term "victim" -- finally lets go of the ball. Or loses consciousness, whichever occurs first. Then someone else picks the ball up and runs away, while the bloodthirsty mob gives chase as if he were carrying an armful of Zotz, Sweet Tarts and Three Musketeers bars. It is an absolutely senseless game. No points are scored, and the only ones who win are those who emerge without a concussion, a cast or a ruptured spleen. It's terrific.

Another great game our school played was something we called "squish 'em." It was an apt name for a simple game. One team would crowd at the top of a landing of stairs. The other would rush up the stairs and crush their opponents against the railings until they cried like figure skaters, felt their limbs go numb and begged for mercy while their faces turned blue. Then we would change places and do it again.

Now, when I was a kid, I wasn't aware these games were inflicting any long-term physical and emotional scars (the nuns were responsible for those). I thought the games were just fun. Then again, I thought "The Six Million Dollar Man" was great, too.

Thank God, we live in more enlightened times, guided by the gentle wisdom of child psychologists, school administrators and Dr. Phil. I now realize these games scarred me deep down with emotional trauma I wasn't even aware of until undergoing hypnotism therapy that drew out my repressed memories.

To protect our children, these people will rid our playgrounds of any game that carries any risk of injury, trauma or sweat. No tag. No dodge ball. And come to think of it, no jump rope, either. Not only can children trip while jumping in place, they also are susceptible to repetitive stress injuries while twirling the jump rope. Better to replace it with "rope." No jumping or twirling. Instead, children would create wonderful belts, necklaces and wall hangings by tying the rope in macramé knots.

No tether ball, either. The ball could hit someone in the head. Better to replace with "Tether." No ball. Just a rope tethering the children to the pole so they can't wander off and hurt themselves.

Even those games might prove too dangerous, though. When you get right down to it, there isn't a competitive game in existence where there isn't a "loser," nor is there a physical activity that doesn't bear some risk of injury. Even coloring books carry dangers (think paper cuts).

It's better to avoid that whole mess by swaddling the kids in layers of protective fleece and flannel like Randy in "A Christmas Story," doping them to the gills with Ritalin, then tying them up inside a Nerf-padded room. They can entertain themselves by playing with their Game-Boy cartridges and listening to Eminem, which is all the little bastards really want to do anyway.

Of course, when the kids are all so fat, lazy and sensitive that they have to pay for two seats on Southwest Airlines, we may have to take further appropriate action by suing someone.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at cuffscaple@hotmail.com.