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  Dodge Ball and Koosh Balls
by Gerald K. McOscar
February 2003

Ruminations on Dodge Ball, the venerable school gym class game in which the target is to eliminate fellow players by hitting them with a ball, and how it is now being targeted for elimination by a cadre of progressive "educators" who equate competition with intimidation. 

Nina Morrison, a sixth grade teacher in South Carolina, awaits trial for tossing a rubber " Koosh Ball " in the direction of one of her pupils who fell asleep in class. She is charged with assault and battery after the child's mother complained to school officials.

  In other school news, Dodge Ball, the venerable school gym class game in which the target is to eliminate fellow players by hitting them with a ball, is being targeted for elimination by a cadre of progressive "educators" who equate competition with intimidation. Judith C. Young, executive director of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, gym class " is not a place kids should be feeling intimidated, embarrassed or put on the spot." ".....(T)hrowing things at people....... is....contrary to what we're teaching elsewhere in school___being supportive of each other, working together." The classroom is a hostile environment for anyone with balls these days.

  All this commotion got me thinking about the intimidation and embarrassment I suffered at the hands of a series of nuns and Christian Brothers at the parochial schools I attended in Southwest Philadelphia. They were more concerned with cramming an amalgam of the Three Rs , character and self-restraint into my empty head than they were about my delicate sensibilities.

  In 7th grade there was Sister Mildred Marie ( known as " Machine Gun Millie" to her fans ) who ordered me out of another teacher's class and into hers at the start of the year because my mother wanted it that way. Sister Bernadette was waiting in the 8th grade, her steely scowl and folded arms a cold shower for the raging hormones of a roomful of 13- and 14 -year-olds. She kept us in check with a lethal combination of fear and ...well....fear.   In high school I made the acquaintance of the redoubtable Brother Denis Justin, " Prefect of Discipline," ( the title sounds so quaint nowadays ), a no nonsense guy if ever there was one. The toughest of miscreants invariably returned from a visit to his office chastened and repentant for their misdeeds, many with tears in their eyes. Conventional wisdom holds that violence begets violence. I'm not convinced. Corporal punishment (or the threat thereof) taught us appropriate behavior and the consequences of crossing the line.

  William Mullen, gym instructor and Drillmaster, was arguably the most frightening of all. His yearbook photo makes him appear non-decrypt and banal, with thin lips, tight smile and buzz-cut, innocuous in sport coat and bow tie, but to a shy, scrawny, athletically challenged 13-year-old high school freshman who loved sports but dreaded gym he was a terrible sight.

  I did find God in one of his free throw shooting contests, however. Standing on the foul line, quaking in my Keds, chubby, shy, timid ( voted "Quietest" in my class, a dubious honor), nervously cradling the ball, basket in the distance, surrounded by classmates, and praying mightily I sank the couple of baskets that spared me a lifetime of ignominy. Afterwards, I felt like someone who had looked death in the eye and lived to tell about it.

  Looking back, I think I felt intimidated, embarrassed and put on the spot every school day. But it is in the crucible that we are molded, refined and defined. Little did I realize that these petty traumas were the price I had to pay for moments of success, triumph, and joy. People fail, I'm convinced, not for lack of ability, but for lack of resolve.

  " Being supportive of each other, working together," is nice sentiment when everyone is on the same team, but sentiment is of no use whatsoever in the hand-to-hand combat of competitive reality. The classroom is where I took my first tentative steps (and suffered my first crushing defeats) on the road to maturity. When I felt like quitting these self-sacrificing, long-suffering men and women were there to pick me up, dust me off and put me back on track, usually with a slap on the backside. Without them I would have forever remained a child.   Unfortunately they wouldn't have a prayer in today's scholastic environment.

Email Gerald K. McOscar, Esq.