Can Banning Red Rover Really Help Kids? New York State Weighs Summer-Camp Safety

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Red rover, red rover, send the New York State Department of Health right over. And back and forth the state agency is going, wobbling between regulating classic outdoor games such as Red Rover and pulling all regulations on those games.

To appease a 2009 law (set to hit the books this year) aimed at regulating summer and day camp programs , the agency formed a list of “non-passive recreational activities with significant risk of injury” that if a program took part in would then classify the program as a camp, requiring additional—and costly—staffing for medical purposes and record keeping.

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The list, which went before the state’s legislature, hit the public this month and surprised more than a few people with the inclusion of wiffleball, red rover, dodgeball, kickball, tag (of all forms, even the ever-popular freeze tag), capture the flag, tetherball and so many more.

New York State Senator Patty Ritchie asked the department last week to rethink the guidelines as being too costly for local summer youth programs. Plus, she says, having kids sitting in the corner instead of outside playing isn’t the point of a quality summer camp anyway. She doesn’t want kids confined to macramé in the corner, especially with the sun shining outside.

Then an odd thing happened on Tuesday afternoon. The agency pulled its entire list of guidelines, scrapping the five-page document made in January outlining which activities were acceptable and which required more oversight.

“We have withdrawn the guidance and are looking at new guidance,” Claudia Hutton, the agency’s public affairs director tells NewsFeed. “The guidance previously issued under a different administration needed further review.”

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And just like that, all lovers of wiffleball could rejoice (just don’t swing your bat too close to your neighbor). But don’t think the issue will go away. The New York State Camp Directors Association supported the original legislation and with public comment on the issue still open until May, you can expect a few ideas to trickle in.

“At a time when our nation’s number one health concern is childhood obesity, I am very happy to see that someone in state government saw we should not be adding new burdensome regulations by classifying tag, red rover and wiffleball as dangerous activities,” says Ritchie after the guidance was dropped. “I am glad New York’s children can continue to steal the bacon and play flag football and enjoy other traditional rites of summer.”

Safe Kids Worldwide communications director Kyle Johnson tells NewsFeed his organization is fully in favor of exercise and sports for a variety of reasons and doesn’t believe many classic outdoor games are inherently dangerous. Instead, Safe Kids promotes quality adult supervision (having first aid training is a must, Johnson says).

“Children need to be taught how to play the game safely,” he says. “Safe Kids believes exercise and sports are good for kids.”

Sure, we can all agree with that. Red Rover can be a bit dangerous if decapitation is the goal. But now the New York State Department of Health is back to the drawing board to figure out just how to regulate all that outdoor summer fun.

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