By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Effingham County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Kyle asked for it and got it during the Poison Pin Dodgeball match.
Three months ago, Kyle, the interim Sheriff’s Department school resource officer, decided it would be a good idea to have local law officers join in a dodgeball match at Effingham Junior High School.
“We’re always looking for new ideas to engage with students here. So this was a new way to show the badge,” said Kyle, who is working as Resource Officer with Darren Feldkamp on medical leave.
Kyle soon realized the Poison Pin matches between EJHS classes and teachers are not a friendly game. The school has taken the competition seriously each year. The kids earn the right to play or attend the matches by maintaining their attendance and also displaying good behavior in classrooms.
“The kids like it a lot. We have high school kids come back and talk about how they miss it,” said EJHS special education teacher Kelsey Baker. “The kids here start talking about it in September. The teachers get excited, too.”
EJHS Principal Cody Lewis pointed out students and teachers in animal or other costumes, either representing their respective teams or their quirkiness. For example, EJHS science teacher Carson Funneman was dressed up as The Grinch, complete with bright green makeup, a Santa top and cap, plus bright green pants.
But the enthusiasm of the students competing on the gym floor or cheering in the stands was also on display. There were loud cheers when a competitor was taken out of the match by being hit by a ball or muffing a catch. The term “Poison Pin” refers to some efforts to knock down two bowling pins at the end of an opposing team’s share of the gym.
“You try to get the pins down. If you get them both down, you automatically win,” explained Ryker Schneider, who played on the eighth grade team that kept the balls flying like a cluster of pitching machines. It takes longer to take out all the opposing players, but that is what the crowd enjoys the most.
Kyle and officers from local police departments and service units took on the eighth graders and learned the kids in black had plenty of arm strength and agility while dodging balls. Some of the young competitors seemed to have a mastery of carrying two balls, while zeroing in on their human targets.
One ball would be used for throwing, while the other served as a deflector for any opponent’s throws. Spencer Fox, a sixth grader, mentioned he likes playing with two balls in hand when they are available.
Some of the kids were proud of their prowess at knocking some members of law enforcement out of the match.
“I know I took out a couple of officers,” Schneider said with a slight grin. But he added that he knows a couple of police officers. Of course, some of the officers were in their uniforms, which might have limited their mobility.
Mia Hefner, a seventh grader, competed against the eighth graders in one of the early matches, and then cheered on the students when they took on the officers and deputies.
“It’s fun, even if you do get hit,” Hefner said.
Getting pelted with rubber balls does seem like a strange way to get to know kids, but Effingham Police Chief Jeff Fuesting said this and other activities are part of his department’s community engagement program.
“This is what we call positive encounters with youth for building relationships that are long lasting,” Fuesting said.
Fuesting was laughing while he lasted on the floor before becoming another officer headed to the bench. So was Kyle, who fell victim early in the second match featuring officers. That had the EJHS teachers lining up against the men and women with badges.
“I was the fifth teacher to go down. I had two balls in my hand and I was ready to nail another officer,” Baker recalled.
She started to say she was “blindsided” but she then admitted there are no real rules in dodgeball except not crossing the dividing line.
But the good thing about this EJHS activity is it promotes attendance at school and good behavior in the classroom.
“It’s important to get the kids to school and encourage good behavior, too. So that’s why we promote this as much as we can,” Baker said.
Even though he got pelted, Deputy Kyle came off the gym floor smiling. He and other officers had established some shared memories with young people that will be meaningful down the road.
Baker plans to get in training for the next dodgeball matches at EJHS. She plans weight training and cardio workouts.
“And I’ll be working on my target practice, too,” she said.