Sports programs in most middle schools and high schools are well organized, well coached and well supervised. Fields and courts are properly prepared, high quality, up-to-date equipment is used by the players, and the players are coached by experienced, properly trained coaches. Players are instructed and drilled on the proper, safe way to play the game. Every move the players make is carefully supervised by the coaching staff. Players are matched against other players of similar size, strength, skill and experience.
Contrast that with Field Day events at our schools. On Field Day, typically every student in the school is invited to participate in athletic events and competitions. These often include things like running races, home run contests, free throw competitions, soccer competitions and the like. Field Days also frequently include more exotic events like complicated obstacle courses, rope climbing, wall climbing and gymnastics-type competitions. Students with no athletic experience may be allowed to compete against the star athletes. Girls may compete against boys.
More often than not, for the “routine” events like hitting a baseball or softball, running races, etc., the attention to safety that is given every day at baseball, softball or track practice is completely lacking. For example, helmets may not be required on Field Day. Students may be allowed to mill around the outfield during a homerun derby, or may actually be competing in other events in the outfield while batters are hitting balls. Younger, inexperienced children may be placed in the field when a strong batter is hitting. Running races may be held on ground that is uneven or riddled with holes. There may be faculty with absolutely no coaching or athletic background supervising these events. This would (or should) never take place at formal team practice. When this takes place on Field Day, there is a serious breach of safety standards and avoidable, unnecessary injuries occur.
With the more exotic or “one-off” events, it is often the case that no consideration is given to students’ safety. Climbing events may not include a harness and safety line to prevent uncontrolled falls. The surface under the participant who is climbing may be hard and not padded and may therefore increase the risk of injury should a fall occur.
For obstacle courses, these are often designed and constructed by students who give no consideration whatsoever to the safety of the participants. This can result in design/construction features that expose participants to unnecessary high risk of injury.
Perhaps most importantly, schools often fail to formulate and enforce a set of rules for participation in these events, which would enable students to participate safely. There may well be a safe way and an unsafe way to do a tumble or to negotiate through an obstacle course or to climb a wall. However, when students are not properly instructed in the safe way to participate in the event, injuries are sure to occur. Other times, there may be a set of rules for participation in the event, but in the spirit of “fun” in the context of the Field Day, these rules are often ignored and students are allowed to horse around in a manner that would never be tolerated at a formal team practice or in gym class. I have seen firsthand the tragic, life-altering consequences that this type of loose supervision and enforcement can have for the students participating in these events.
Field Day events can and should be fun, active, healthy days for students. However, school administrators and faculty must recognize the safety implications of the activities they sponsor and must give the same level of attention to safety as they do to formal, organized sporting events and gym classes. Failure to do so, leads to unnecessary, avoidable injuries.
We have extensive experience litigating Field Day accident and related cases. If your child has been injured in this type of setting, I am willing to discuss the matter with you. Call me toll free at 1-877-944-8396 or e-mail me at [email protected]. The personal injury lawyers at White and Williams serve all accident victims in Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley, PA and NJ.