Storming and Dogpiling:
Dangerous Uncontrolled Celebrations In Youth Sports
By Doug Abrams
Earlier this season, tragedy struck at a third-tier soccer game in Mizoram, a state in northeast India. After scoring the tying goal in the 62nd minute, 23-year-old midfielder Peter Biaksangzuala tried imitating some prominent pros by celebrating with a somersault. He landed heavily on his head and back and was immediately transported barely conscious to a local hospital. After five days on life support, he died of severe spinal cord injuries.
“Storming” and “Dogpiling”
The India soccer celebration gone wrong happened in adult competition, and death was a rare if not unprecedented outcome. But the incident offers another opportunity to alert youth league and high school sports programs about how swiftly unrestrained individual or team celebrations can morph into avoidable, and sometimes serious, injury. Both “storming” and “dogpiling” celebrations call for preventive measures by coaches, parents, and league administrators.
Storming the court or gridiron at the end of a game remains an unfortunate tradition in sports such as basketball or football, where no barriers typically separate fans from the field. The Sporting News’ Dave Kindred has called storming “madhouse celebrations” fueled by “stampede pathology.” Flying objects can cause serious injury, and anyone who stumbles risks being crushed.
Even when no fans storm from the stands at the end of a game, the winning team’s own celebration after a score or a victory — commonly called “dogpiling” — holds similar dangers in sports such as hockey, baseball and soccer. We have all seen pros and collegians pile on top of one another at the pitcher’s mound or the goal line, and youth leaguers are prone to imitate what they see.
“You Feel Like You’re Going to Get Killed”
Storming and dogpiling may seem like innocent fun, but press accounts report punches thrown, fans shoved to the ground, knee ligaments torn, skulls fractured, and other bones broken. Perhaps the worst high school basketball storming incident occurred on February 6, 2004, moments after 18-year-old Tucson High School senior Joe Kay scored the game’s last points with a two-handed slam dunk to upset an archrival. About 200 frenzied fans stormed the court to celebrate the victory, and one tackled the 6’6” Kay, the class valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar who was headed to Stanford University on a full volleyball scholarship. Kay suffered a broken jaw and a torn carotid artery, which caused a stroke that left him unable to speak and paralyzed on his right side. Joe Kay, wrote the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, was “the schoolboy hero one minute and the trampled victim the next.”
Former New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte describes fear from his teammates’ dogpiling. “I’ve been on the bottom,” he told the San Antonio Express News, “and you feel like you’re going to get killed. You’re screaming and trying to get people off you.”
Responsibilities to Youth Leaguers
Professional and intercollegiate leagues can set their own standards for their adult players. But storming and dogpiling warrant preventive responses in youth leagues and interscholastic sports programs conducted for the benefit of children.
In my own sport of hockey, storming is not an issue because the boards and glass separate spectators from the ice surface, but high school players and youth leaguers of all ages risk serious, avoidable injury when they dogpile after winning a game. In the 5-8-year-old mites, 15 teammates amount to several hundred pounds on top of the goaltender and whoever else lands on the bottom. Fifteen high school teammates, each weighing as much as 150 pounds or more, can total more than a ton of weight on the players at the bottom. Even in sports whose players squirming for position do not wear skates with razor-sharp blades, that is a lot of weight.
“No Piling On”
Coaches, parents and league administrators sometimes tolerate storming and dogpiling as essentially harmless traditions sustained by healthy exuberance and partisanship. But neither celebration deserves tolerance because neither is healthy.
Interscholastic sports programs and youth leagues should prohibit fans from rushing the field or court after the game, should fully and candidly explain the reasons, and, if necessary, should arrange for security to assure enforcement. In sports that are prone to dogpiling, coaches should enforce a no-dogpiling rule for their own teams.
In our youth hockey association, coaches from mites to high school found the no-dogpiling rule easy to administer. The coaches would discuss the rule with players and parents before the season. Parents now understood why goalies destined for the bottom of the post-game dogpile would sometimes skate away from pursuing teammates. In the last minute or so of every game that we were going to win, the coaches would remind the players on the bench to “Congratulate the goalie, but stay on your feet. No piling on.”
For fans and players alike, celebration is a big part of sports. But team and individual achievements mean just as much with prudence and an eye toward the future.
[Sources: Vivek Chaudhary, Indian Footballer Peter Biaksangzuala’s Death Leads to Fifa Proposal For Somersault Ban, The Independent, Oct. 24, 2014; Dave Kindred, A Stampede Isn’t a Celebration, The Sporting News, Feb. 23, 2004, p. 64; Brent Zwerneman, Mad Dogpiles, San Antonio (Tex.) Express News, June 30, 2004, at 1C (quoting Andy Pettitte); Steve Solloway, Storming the Court, and a Storm of Controversy, Portland (Maine) Press Herald, May 5, 2006, at D8]