Senior Grant Stauffer has been sent to the nurse’s office twice the past two years, each instance due to Team Games Ultimate Frisbee.
During the second semester of Stauffer’s sophomore year, he tore three finger ligaments in his left hand and sprained his wrist after being upended by a competitor for a catch. His junior year, he severely scraped his elbow laying out for another catch on a tennis court. Both injuries required trips to the nurse, with the first one leading to x-rays at the hospital.
A recent study done by the Center of Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH suggests that Stauffer may be a part of a trend. According to the study, injuries to 5-18 year olds in P.E. class involving visits to emergency departments increased 150 percent from 1997-2007 across the US.
One possible reason attributed to this rise in injuries, according to the study, includes a movement towards “new P.E.,” which places emphasis on individual and lifelong sports. Another reason points to a decline in the number of school nurses nationwide.
P.E. Department Head Shawn Hair, who is in his fourteenth year at East, does not believe P.E. related injuries have increased during his time as a Lancer. Since he arrived, he feels an effort has been made to actually increase safety in gym class.
“Everything we do that involves a ball – if you’re throwing or catching it – you’re playing with a softer type of ball,” Hair said. “ From softball to water polo to football, which we aren’t playing with a hard, leather high school football. It’s a rubber type of football.”
The presence of a school nurse at East could be a support for Hair’s belief of less P.E. related injuries. Lara McKenzie, the study’s senior author, said the number of school nurses in the U.S. decreased during the period of the study. Fewer nurses in schools lead to more kids being sent straight to emergency departments, bypassing the checkup for less severe injuries.
School nurse Susan Varner said injuries in P.E. class usually do not occur more than once or twice per week at East. According to Varner, a “very small percentage” of these kids are sent to emergency departments, due to the fact that most injuries are falls or scrapes. Varner said that ultimate frisbee was the most injury-prone activity, leading to more than just Stauffer’s injuries.
Supervision, although a briefly mentioned point in the study, could also be contributing to increased injuries across the nation. Larger classes can limit a teacher’s ability to keep watch over individual students.
As a gym teacher with over 20 years of experience, Hair manages his students so that games stay competitive, but not to the point where conflicts arise.
“Sometimes emotions play a part of it,” Hair said. “If this team is playing that team, and that team scores, it may upset someone. You need to make sure they don’t do anything silly. Sometimes if you just say, ‘Hey, catch your breath, take a break, relax. This is physical education, not the state championship.’ Keeping it in perspective is good for kids.”
The study mentions increased funding as a possible solution to this rise in injuries. According to McKenzie, funding could be used for extra training for teachers along with more safety precautions and safety equipment.
“Being healthy doesn’t have to hurt,” McKenzie said. “You can have a physically active lifestyle, which is really important for kids in school. The long term effects of inactivity outweigh the relatively minor effects of P.E. related injuries.”
McKenzie wants the study to raise awareness about the safety of P.E. class, not keep kids away from being active.
“We want people to take gym,” McKenzie said. “We’re not saying people shouldn’t take gym, we just want them to do it as safely as possible.”