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Ohio kids go ‘gaga’ for Jewish game



Published: Mon, November 19, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS

A two-syllable word cracked the silence over the school playground, shouted by the first student to dash out of the school doors at recess.

Each syllable was drawn out as 10-year-old Addi Holcomb yelled “gaga,” the name of a dodgeball-like game played in a low-walled enclosure called a “pit” that was the finish line of her dash at Edison Intermediate Middle School in Grandview Heights.

Lines of as many as 50 students waiting to play the game wrapped around the pit for the next hour. Gaga — Hebrew for “touch touch” — has long been a staple at Jewish summer camps but has spread to schools and secular camps nationwide.

“It’s really kind of taken over the camp world by storm,” said Brad McCain, the associate executive director of the Jerry L. Garver YMCA in Canal Winchester. “It’s spilled over to schools and also filtered across the U.S.”

Students who played it at a summer camp brought it to Edison, and parents built the wood-walled, octagonal pit last month. It’s so popular that the pit is reserved for certain grades on different days.

The object of the game is to swat a ball out of the air and hit another player with it below the waist, eliminating that player. Ten children play at a time at Edison, but the game can accommodate dozens. It’s fast, but action stays low to the ground as the ball ricochets off the walls, which fans say makes the game safer than traditional dodgeball.

However, a national group of physical-education experts denounces the game as dangerous. Schools have reported to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education that children have suffered head injuries and been bullied while playing.

“We call it the ‘bully pit,”’ said Sheila Jones, physical-education supervisor in Loudoun County schools in Virginia, a district of more than 66,000 students.


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