Dodging problems

Being shielded from the pains of childhood will only greaten those adulthood.

By Mark Hassenfratz

My sister recently told me that dodgeball got banned at my old elementary school. After I finished my spit-take, I asked her what possible reasons they could have for getting rid of such a fantastic sport. She said that the powers that be think that it is an unhealthy learning experience because it encourages kids to pick on each other, particularly turning the stronger kids on the weaker kids.

I always knew that eventually there would be a gap between my sister’s childhood and mine. We’re six years apart, but it feels like she’s in a different generation. When I go to pick her up from school, every kid I see is on a cell phone. Not just flip phones (like the one I had when I was her age that went off in church once, much to the dismay of my mortal soul’s chances of getting into heaven) but smartphones. It’s crazy to see. What does a kid need a smartphone for? I guess it’s for handling conference calls when they aren’t playing Angry Birds. That playdate isn’t going to book itself.

I get it, technology moves fast and everyone ends up with new gadgets. But no dodgeball? Are you insane? Besides being a childhood staple, dodgeball was one of the best things that ever happened to me—and I was one of those weak kids these new rules are trying to protect. Protecting kids is important, but I feel there’s a lot to be said for learning how to protect yourself as opposed to having administration do it for you. Ultimately, dodgeball is the first time you learn about self-reliance and sticking up for yourself, traits everyone needs, especially in college and beyond. Being singled out sucks, but teaching yourself how to behave under that kind of stress is hugely beneficial in the long run.

In elementary school, I was skinny and pale, which made me a fun target to hit. But I learned to use those traits to my advantage. I used my wiry frame to my benefit and kept a slim profile. I just kept moving, using my peripheral vision to track flying projectiles, and let my instincts handle the rest. I still could not throw, which was a problem. The stronger kids who couldn’t flit about like me sent me to fetch any balls they couldn’t get to without being hit. Being smaller and faster than the stronger kids were, I always returned with fresh ammo for our troops.

I specifically remember one instance where my entire team had been run down, leaving me the sole survivor. I kept my cool and used minimalist movements to dodge so as not to tire myself out too quickly. I bided my time until I saw the opportunity to snatch a ball out of the air and bring all of my teammates back into play. I knew I was going to catch that one green ball the second it left the other kid’s hand. Half a second later, the rest of my team stormed back onto the court. We rallied and came back for victory.

Sure, I got beaten down, and yes, it did suck. But by banning dodgeball and saving kids from a few bad days, you coddle them too much. You may save them from a few crappy days in gym, but you hurt them in the long run. How is a person supposed to face problems in their future life if all childhood adversity is taken away from them?

Dodgeball taught me everything school couldn’t. You can either complain and gripe and moan and get hit in the face, or you can learn to work with the hand you’re dealt to the best of your ability and get hit in the face substantially less. When you think you finally have a handle on things, you get hit in the face again. But you get up and attack it the next time, and the next time and so on until it works. Come to think of it, whether or not it works is irrelevant. As long as you can get up again and carry yourself well after being knocked to the floor several times, that’s a victory in my book.

Mark Hassenfratz is a first-year in the College.