April 16, 2008— -- Accidents happen. It's a truism that extends to backyards and playgrounds everywhere, where scuffed knees, shiners and broken bones can be unfortunate byproduct of play.
Sometimes those accidents are fatal.
On Sunday, 10-year-old Nebraskan Garrett Schomer was impaled on a metal rod sticking out from a playhouse in a neighbor's yard. The rod struck the fourth grader in the temple, according to ABC News' Omaha affiliate KETV, and he died at a local hospital of brain injuries. "I'm empty inside without my son," Trevor Schomer, the boy's father, told KETV. "My wife and I both are."
Omaha authorities quickly ruled out foul play -- the boy's death was a tragic accident during a game of tag, an age-old ritual in which the person who is "it" chases other participants and attempts to "tag" them with a hand.
Though long a rite of passage on children's playgrounds, the game has come under scrutiny in recent years as school officials question whether it might be be causing too many injuries.
The physical dangers of tag -- and the aggressive way her students play the game -- were enough to convince Robyn Hooker, principal of Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean, Va., to curb the game, at least for now.
"This is not the old-fashioned tag, where you could use two fingers and you would be it and move on to someone else," Hooker told The Washington Post, describing a much more aggressive brand of tag her first through fifth graders like to call "jailbreak" that involves children piling on one another.
In a letter to parents, Hooker, who forwarded a message from ABC News to a district spokesman, reportedly described tag as a game of "intense aggression" and said that the number of students ending up in the nurse's office has gotten out of hand.
The school has replaced free-flowing tag with structured lesson plans overseen by physical education teachers that stress "chasing, fleeing and dodging" but limit physical contact.
The decision has drawn criticism from some parents and psychologists who say the school is making the play environment too regimented and robbing kids of a vital physical and developmental exercise … not to mention good, clean fun.
Stephanie Sullenger, the president of the Kent Gardens Parent-Teacher Association, supports Hooker's temporary policy, according to the Post. And Paul Regnier, Fairfax County school district spokesman, called Hooker's decision "perfectly acceptable."
"You have this school where kids are playing tag, but the fact is they're pushing each other," Regnier said. "We're going to have a moratorium on what they're calling tag."
But while Hooker's decision may have support from the PTA, school district administrators and some parents question the "no tag" policy, which has been introduced in a handful of school across the country along with other policies -- like banning dodgeball -- designed to keep students safe while at play.