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Russell Wangersky: Soccer net deaths completely avoidable

I’m sorry if I’m raising old ghosts — I know I will be for some people, some who may even be reading this. I apologize for that. But a story out of Napanee, Ont., last week raised them for me.

Russell Wangersky

On May 12, Garrett Mills, 15, was killed after a soccer goal toppled over and struck him on the head, killing him. He had apparently been hanging by the crossbar, doing chin-ups, showing off and having fun with friends when the accident occurred. He was just getting set to go on his first official date with his girlfriend — they were on their way to a movie.

The crossbar of the 180-pound goal struck him on the left side of his head, killing him instantly.

It’s a death that should not have happened. The danger of tipping soccer nets is well known — for safety reasons, some jurisdictions in the United States require by law that the nets be properly anchored. Canada Soccer requires nets to be anchored before games can start, but the rule doesn’t necessarily apply on practice fields or away from official games. Anchors can be missing, pulled by vandals, or installed improperly.

Still, by now it should be absolutely unfathomable that anyone would place a top-heavy soccer net in any public space and not fully fasten it to the ground.

The danger is so obvious, and the accidents are still happening.

A toppled soccer goal killed a child in St. John’s so many years ago that you would think the message on fastening nets properly would have criss-crossed the country and come all the way back again — the horror of that incident alone should have changed the procedures for fastening down nets for good. But it clearly didn’t.

A 15-year-old girl, Jaime Palm, died after being trapped under a toppled soccer net in Brantford, Ont., in 2014. A five-year-old died in 2012 in Watson Lake, Yukon.

After six-year-old Zachary Tran’s fatal accident in Chicago in 2003, his parents started tracking soccer goal deaths and injuries — primarily head and neck injuries, many of them life-changing. Their statistics now list 41 deaths and 59 injuries from falling nets, and the website acknowledges the numbers are incomplete.

How could it happen now to another family?

It’s hard enough for parents to deal with the unpreventables, the bad luck and the being in the wrong place at the wrong time situations.

Anyone who is a parent knows how it feels: when someone else’s teenager dies in a drinking and driving collision, when another child is seriously injured in a freak hockey accident, there’s a small part of you that feels like your teen, your family, has only just dodged a bullet. Especially this time of year, as spring rolls around and the school year winds down, when you watch them go out the door and cross your fingers and toes that everything will be all right, that they’ll stay safe and out of trouble; that you’ve given them enough tools to recognize and avoid dangerous situations.

Like I said, it’s hard enough dealing with the unpreventables.

But the preventables?

If we can’t stop those from happening, what the heck is wrong with us?

There should not be a single set of soccer goalposts anywhere in this nation that are not properly and permanently fastened down by now. Not indoor nets, not practice nets, not movable nets.

There is a point where things just aren’t accidents any more. If you’ve been warned and warned, it eventually crosses the line into sheer negligence.

And we’ve been passed that point for years.


Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 30 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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