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Windham schools reverse post-Sandy Hook ban on dodgeball, other 'human target' games

WINDHAM — The Windham School Board voted 4-0 to restore modified versions of dodgeball and similar "human target" games to the district's physical education programs — effective immediately.

In March, the board voted 4-1 in favor of removing dodgeball and nine other games from the curriculum in response to parents' concerns about bullying and student safety. In May, an 11-member committee of district physical education teachers, administrators and other community members was tasked with reviewing the board's decision after the board heard from various community members and students asking for the return of the games.

Tuesday night, it was standing room only. Board Chairman Michael Joanis, along with board members Michelle Farrell and Stephanie Wimmer, balked at fellow board member Dennis Senibaldi's suggestion of moving the matter ahead of a discussion of the district's new math program pilot. Board member Jerome Rekart wasn't present. "We're all here to talk about math, right?" joked board member Stephanie Wimmer.

Over an hour after the meeting began, school officials finally began tossing around the topic most people in the audience sat waiting for.

Golden Brook School Vice Principal Rory O'Connor, one of the original panel members to recommend removing dodgeball, told the board that the study committee was charged with "taking a closer look at the violent nature of these games ... and to make sure student safety remains paramount" and they took their duties seriously.

School officials ultimately agreed to let the games return for now, though some of those games will have much different names.

For those who prefer not to dodge flying objects in their gym classes, there will also be plenty of alternatives."We went through existing studies and determined that certain games had violent characteristics, specifically at the middle school level," O'Connor said, noting that the game of "Slaughter" has been re-named "Numero Uno."During high school games for the newly renamed "Cageball," students will have the option of partaking in an alternative activity, such as independent workout time in the gym, according to O'Connor.

Wimmer noted that she and other board members weren't immune to bullying themselves over the course of the dodgeball saga.

"I've had all of George Carlin's famous words on my answering machine," she said. "I had to take my phone number off the district website."School administrators vowed to pay close attention to what's going on in their gym classes, noting that though games in question are played with soft, Nerf balls, those who aren't comfortable with such games shouldn't be forced to do so. "Like any other subject, we're holding ourselves to a higher standard," Windham Center School Principal Kori-Alice Becht said.

Senibaldi was the dissenting vote in March; his 12-year-old twin sons Michael and Matthew were among the hundreds of district students to petition the district to reconsider the ban.

Senibaldi said he was disappointed that his fellow school officials "spent so much time and energy about a game that's only played a few times each year."

"I'm surprised at the 180-degree change from the previous recommendation," he added. "But at least now we can move on from this."

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