Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Beyond just a game of dodgeball January 6, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A JCC player prepares to throw the football, left.

A Minnesota State High School play-off game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

RECENT REPORTS THAT ONE STUDENT punched another in a game of dodgeball during a gym class at a Wisconsin high school have prompted unpleasant memories of my own p.e. experiences. I can still feel the sting of those rubber balls slammed by muscled farm boys in a fierce game of bombardment. Even the game name suggests violence. I took plenty of physical, and emotional, hits.

I don’t understand the value in kids targeting balls at one another. Call it dodgeball. Call it bombardment. Why engage in this game? In the Wisconsin case, a student is now facing battery charges following the punch that resulted in a facial fracture.

A ref makes a call.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Back in the day, I hated gym class. There, I said it. I was a bookish kid, small in size, wearing glasses (since age four) and among the last chosen for a team. I couldn’t wait until class ended and I could escape team pressure, demanding expectations of a gym teacher and the sting of rubber balls, a bow string or a volleyball.

I tried. Really tried. But no amount of effort could turn me in to an athlete. If only teachers, and classmates, recognized that.

I recall one junior high p.e. teacher in particular who expected students to perform like Olympic gymnasts, comparing us to Martha, the one girl in class who could tumble, swing, leap and balance with amazing agility. The teacher allowed us to choose our grade based on a list of requirements. Unable to ever physically complete the tasks required for an A or B, I selected C. I fail to understand that teacher’s grading methods; the system only served to humiliate students. Grading based on personal improvements seems a better way to gauge progress in a physical education class.

US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

My experiences with sports during recess and then gym classes shaped my attitude toward athletics. I understand the value of sports in building confidence, physical and mental strength, leadership and teamwork skills. But at what cost? I see a society so focused on sports that we’ve lost perspective on the value of family time, morals, time for kids just to be kids and a balance in life.

Yes, this is just my opinion and you can choose to disagree. Perhaps your sports experiences differed significantly from mine. I hope so.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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17 Responses to “Beyond just a game of dodgeball”

  1. Littlesundog Says:

    Boy, did this ever bring back memories. I was always one of the last picked for any sport as I was not athletic. I too remember dreading recess and PE – and the taunting of being a loser at most every game or sport. But for some reason dodge ball changed everything. Skinny Lori turned out to be fast as lightning and hard to hit with that rubber ball! I was great at darting and quick to “dodge” that ball! Suddenly, I became one of the first picked… but of course only for dodge ball. I’ve had a poor attitude about sports most of my life, and I’m pretty vocal about why – the bullying and poor sportsmanship we see everywhere. I went to a Lutheran parochial school and I can’t say kids or parents were any more “sportsmanlike” there at all.

    • You and I share similar experiences in sports, the same reasons (and more) that I also have a poor attitude toward sports.

      Unfortunately, I found the same issues with athletics at the Lutheran parochial school my children attended. I expected better.

  2. I did not care for the competitiveness and just demotivated me. I have learned through that experience to be competitive with myself and that helps motivate and drive me as well as makes me feel good about myself and my strength, health and wellness. The injury I experienced in 2010 truly challenged me and changed me – I had to learn how to do a lot of basic things again that I took for granted – talk about a wake up call! Every day is a gift that I continue to stand on my own two feet and fight every day to recover and become stronger. I recently upgraded my recovery bicycle and love getting out to ride and push myself and my overall strength and endurance. In the end that is what matters to me that I am doing it and doing it for myself. Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

  3. Wãshē Kōdä Says:

    I did not participate in dodge ball, got a temp suspension. 3 yrs of electronics in high school & moved on!!!

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    I totally relate to your post! The argument for athletics (team building, working with others, being part of something “bigger than oneself”, etc, etc……..) may also be applied to such things as debate teams, music group endeavors, etc. Sometimes I think that the Asian cultures have a better “handle” on the correlation between healthy stimulating thinking environs and moderate exercise. The “animal” competitive aspect is one that seems to have exceeded any semblance of common sense!!!!!

  5. Larry Says:

    That’s how I felt about math class. Research shows kids involved in sports do better in school, are more reliable employees, and work better collaboratively. They are also better at solving problems.

  6. Jackie Says:

    I hesitated to comment, as I was a 3 sport athlete’s in high school, 2 sport in college and thrived on competitive sports. I could fell your personal pain by your words and not-so-fond memories. I’m sorry you had to experience those things, Audrey ( I really do hate hearing those hurts that people experienced in their youth) With that being said, I think we have all had similar experiences in other situations in our schools growing up. Mine was “speech class”, I wanted to die when my name was called, to get up in front of my classmates and try not to sound like an idiot was emotionally exhausting, I was sick to my stomach,I was tongue-tied and don’t think I ever got a grade above a “C”. I was confident in anything sports related but when it came to speech and most other academic’s I performed at a below average level. Here’s what I think….. Phy-ed, speech, Music, typing and Art, should all be Pass/Fail, not graded. Imagine the relief and pressure that would be taken off children.

    • I’m glad you commented. And I’m sorry for the stress you suffered in speech class. I never really liked giving speeches either, but did well once I got in front of the class.

      That pass/fail system would remove a lot of pressure, wouldn’t it?

  7. Marilyn Says:

    I wasn’t going to comment, but the number here who share negative memories from school sports has drawn me in. I was always the last picked for the team, the slowest, ran with a shuffle step, couldn’t remember the rules (and basically didn’t really care!) In nineth grade I thought I would be a blessing to my (small, rural) school and agreed to join the girls’ basketball team. At least it was a sport I understood and watched with some interest. They needed an 8th player to fill the team numbers. It was a bad choice!

    • Ah, Marilyn, I am sorry you went through some of the same difficulties I did with sports. I probably didn’t much care either, an attitude which remains with me today regarding most sports. I think it’s the adulation of athletes and coaches, the ridiculously high pay, etc. (at college and pro levels) that bothers me most.

  8. Ugh… I remember playing dodgeball and getting hit in the head more than once. Both of my children have come home with similar complaints. I remember. Being the kid a recess who stood by the door and waited to go back inside with a book in hand.


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