EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 29, 2013

Windham seventh-graders work to restore dodgeball

By Alex Lippa

---- — WINDHAM — There are no more human targets in gym class, but two Windham Middle School seventh-graders have found a new target: the School Board.

Outrage lingered among many students yesterday at officials’ decision last week to ban dodgeball and other “human target” games throughout the district.

Twins Matthew and Michael Senibaldi, the sons of the only School Board member to vote against the ban, are taking the ball into their own hands. They have started an online petition, asking the School Board to restore dodgeball.

The School Board voted, 4-1, last week to ban dodgeball and nine other “human target” games from gym classes. The vote came after a middle school parent complained about their child being bullied during dodgeball.

The School Board banned the games after a committee of gym teachers found they did not meet National Association for Sport and Physical Education standards. The committee also spoke with Marcia McCaffrey, education consultant for the New Hampshire Department of Education.

”We encourage schools to align the curriculum to those standards,” she said.

All of the games banned, with names like Slaughter, Prison Ball and Bombardment, involve throwing a Nerf ball at other students below the shoulders.

“It’s just a fun game I’ve been playing since the second grade,” said Michael, 12. “I don’t get why we can’t play anymore.”

Matthew and Michael started the petition during lunch Wednesday and had collected more than 40 signatures in a matter of minutes. But the petition was taken away by a teacher and the boys were spoken to by principal Dan Moulis.

“I was told you can’t have a petition without proper permission,” Michael said.

The twins started the petition without the knowledge of their father, School Board member Dennis Senibaldi, who was on the short end of the 4-1 vote.

“When I heard this, I told them if they get all of your signatures together and then I’ll put it in front of the School Board,” the elder Senibaldi said yesterday. “Maybe this can help make the other board members change their mind,”

After the principal protested their tactics, the twins started an online petition, change.org/petitions/windham-school-board-please-let-nerf-ball-games-continue-in-gym-class.

The petition asks School Board members to reconsider their votes, calling it unfair to ban the games after just a few complaints.

Senibaldi said it would be at least two weeks before the petition would be presented to the School Board.

The boys also made signs in support of their effort and hung them in school hallways and on lockers Wednesday.

The signs were gone yesterday.

Dennis Senibaldi spoke with Moulis by phone yesterday. The principal told him the signs were a “disruption.”

“I think it’s only disruptive because of all the attention it’s getting,” Senibaldi said. “It’s kind of embarrassing.”

The story has gone national.

”A friend in Florida called me and said Rush Limbaugh jumped all over the board,” Senibaldi said.

His twins aren’t the only students unhappy with the decision. Many high school students were outraged.

“It’s pointless,” Windham High junior Rachel Silva said. “We use Nerf balls. It’s honestly impossible to get hurt by them. It was my favorite game to play in gym.”

Others thought the ban shouldn’t apply at the high school level.

“I could see bullying in middle school,” junior Mike McDade said. “But, once you get to high school, that doesn’t go on.”

Sophomore Lia D’Angelo said it was pretty clear how the majority of students felt.

“People were tweeting about it all day yesterday,” she said. “They’ve been saying how ridiculous it is.”

But not everyone disagreed with the School Board’s decision.

Some shoppers at Shaw’s on Indian Rock Road applauded the ban.

“Nobody likes balls being thrown at their faces,” said Cheryl Giusto, 52, of Windham. “I always used to get picked on in grammar school. I hated it.”

Kayla McGurn, 22, of Hampstead said she was sympathetic to kids who are targets.

“I’ve seen kids get bullied and I remember being the bully,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea to just stop it altogether.”

But some parents said they thought the School Board overreacted.

“We can’t just protect and shelter these kids. We need to teach them some of the bumpy parts of life,” said Ken Eyring, the parent of a Windham Middle School seventh-grader. “I think the School Board has a lot of other issues that they need to be focused on right now.”