EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 30, 2013

Petition drives to restore dodgeball in Windham gain steam

By John Toole

---- — WINDHAM — School Board member Jerome Rekart didn’t have to dodge any questions about dodgeball yesterday.

It was the first time a School Board member met with people from the community since the panel voted to drop dodgeball from the school district’s curriculum last week.

Rekart was holding the second of his new “Education Matters” weekly chats for constituents at Windham Junction Country Gift Shop & Kitchen.

But the three residents who sat down with Rekart for coffee and conversation beneath a “Sit, Chat, Chew” sign had bigger concerns: school facilities, the budget and a contract for teachers.

Rekart alluded to the dodgeball controversy amid discussion about the challenges of serving on the School Board.

“I’m not doing a lot of dodging, but balls are being thrown my way,” Rekart told his constituents.

Rekart was with the majority when the School Board voted, 4-1, to drop dodgeball after a parent complained about a child being bullied while playing the game.

He did answer a question from a reporter about whether he is reconsidering his vote.

“Right now, I want to wait and see what the community brings forward,” Rekart said.

His decision, he said, was in support of what education professionals had recommended. He said he loves dodgeball and has no problem with the district allowing dodgeball clubs for students.

The dodgeball decision is generating at least as much controversy in town as the $31 million middle school project voters rejected at Town Meeting.

Tuesday night presents an opportunity for people to speak out on dodgeball through the board’s regularly scheduled public comment period at the start of the School Board meeting. That is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Community Development offices, 3 North Lowell Road.

People have been sounding off on websites and electronic message boards about the decision.

An online petition organized by Matthew and Michael Senibaldi, 12-year-old twin sons of School Board member Dennis Senibaldi, had collected 228 signatures by presstime in support of dodgeball.

Senibaldi was the lone School Board member to oppose the dodgeball decision.

Windham High students also are circulating petitions, even though the dodgeball decision doesn’t affect that school because students don’t play dodgeball in gym classes.

High school principal Tom Murphy said student Michael Bedient was leading that petition drive, which had collected about 200 signatures yesterday.

“Dodgeball is not something we ever had,” Murphy said. “That is not part of the curriculum at the high school.”

When the issue came up, Murphy’s concern was preserving a benefit dodgeball tournament the school uses to support basketball. Superintendent Henry LaBranche assured Murphy that was not an issue because students have the option of playing in the tournament.

“We can still do it at the high school,” Murphy said.

Rekart’s weekly chats are continuing. People can speak with him next Friday at Nesmith Library, 8 Fellows Road, from 11 a.m. to noon.