11/25/2011 12:41 EST | Updated 01/25/2012 05:12 EST

Let Kids Play Ball


It's not just foolish, but pathetic that elementary schools increasingly are banning sports or activities that can result in injuries.

The issue became newsworthy in Toronto, when Earl Beatty Public School banned balls -- footballs, soccer balls, baseballs, volley balls, basketballs, all sorts of balls except sponge balls -- that conceivably could hurt a person if struck in the head.

The ban was imposed when a mother was apparently bonked by a soccer ball and went to hospital with a concussion.

Trying to produce a risk-free society is understandable at a certain level, but it's an attitude that can lead to unnecessary injuries. By not allowing ball games, reflexes don't get developed and awareness drops.

Earl Beatty's banning of balls is a syndrome that is reflected throughout society.

You don't see diving boards in public swimming pools any more; once, every pool had a diving board that kids loved, but were occasionally injured. And certainly no high diving boards. Pity. No more cannonball jumps or Tarzan leaps. Gone, like the Dodo.

It used to be that injuries were normal for kids: Scrapes, bruises, occasional black eyes, sprained ankles, and such. Now they are cause for alarm.

Some shudder at the memory of kids once playing hockey without helmets. Ignored, is that a head encased in a plastic shell smacking the ice can still cause concussion.

Bicycles used to be ridden without helmets. No more. All are symptoms of risk-free living that infects the nation, where responsibility shifts from the individual to the collective.

Organized sports for kids often try to reduce the competitive aspects -- like rival little league teams banned from keeping score so there'll be no apparent winners or losers, and no hurt feelings. The idea is to instill love for the game, and not winning or losing. This never works. Kids playing the game always keep score and know who is winning, even if the coaches pretend they don't know.

Banning balls in schoolyards condemns some kids to not developing hand-eye co-ordination, or basic skills of throwing and anticipating. And that's a pity.

At recess at Earl Beatty School, one supposes kids now stand around and discuss global warming. Immeasurably few wind up with concussions from being bonked on the bean with a soccer ball.

In the bad old days, recess at elementary schools was when boys wrestled, competed with glass marbles (called "allies"), and played "land" with pocket knives (which every boy carried): You hurled into a square drawn on the ground and carved off land according to where the pocket knife pierced the ground.

All are probably banned now -- especially pocket knives.

Unorganized sports for kids seem discouraged these days. Now parents are sought to supervise games. Kids wear team jerseys. In other times they just played, argued, followed their own rules -- and would have been horrified if parents intruded on games.

It won't be long before there are no swings in parks, no jungle gyms (kids sometimes slip and fall from them) -- just a sandbox from which dogs are banned, for obvious reasons. More risk-free living.

Banning balls from schoolyards penalizes kids and benefits no one -- with the possible exception of mothers who won't get concussions from being bonked with a ball.