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Statewide survey shows "ball tapping" problem widespread
It's a disturbing game with devastating consequences, and a new WTHR survey suggests it is rampant in Indiana schools.
"Ball tapping" is the act of intentionally hitting or kicking a male in the genitals. Earlier this month, an Eyewitness News investigation showed the game has become commonplace in some area schools, resulting in serious injuries for students.
As part of the investigation, WTHR also conducted a statewide survey of school nurses. The results are in, and they show the problem of ball tapping is more common and widespread than many school officials had realized.
School nurses from 163 Indiana schools participated in the anonymous survey, and 33% of those nurses said they're aware of ball tapping happening at their school within the past twelve months.
But a closer look at the statistics shows the problem is much more serious in some schools than in others.
23% of school nurses who work at the elementary level say they've seen or heard of ball tapping at their school. That number nearly doubles in high schools, where 43% of school nurses say they've seen it.
And in middle schools, 62% of school nurses said they're aware of students engaged in ball tapping.
Among the 72 middle school and high school nurses who participated in WTHR's survey, 50% said they had seen students who came to the school clinic seeking assistance related to an incident of ball tapping. Half of those nurses also reported they had observed the problem several (more than two) times each school year, and about 10% said it happens at their school on a daily or weekly basis.
Jake Arend doesn't need survey results to convince him ball tapping is a serious problem.
Classmates began hitting him in the groin when he was in sixth grade and it continued for years.
"I was just the scrawny kid everybody picked on to make themselves look better," Arend said. "If you get hit in that area, you just want to fall and cry, but I tried not to."
By the time Jake got to Danville High School, he says he was being ball tapped every week – sometimes even three or four times a day.
"Sometimes it would be just the flick of a wrist, and there was one time I actually got hit in the area with a socket wrench," he recalled. "When I got hit with that, I actually just hit the ground and just laid there in the fetal position for five to ten minutes for the pain to go away, then I got up and went to class."
Jake never told his parents and he never told his teachers, fearing the bullies at school would hit him ever harder if they got in trouble.
"I just thought 'It's pain. I'll deal with it,'" said Arend.
When Jake graduated in May 2009, he thought all that pain would be a thing of the past. It was just getting started.
In late October, Jake was rushed to Hendricks Regional Hospital in Danville where doctors performed an emergency operation. Years of enduring ball tapping had finally taken its toll. Undetected scar tissue had completely sealed off Jake's urinary tract, resulting in horrifying pain.
"It was a pain like I've never felt before. It was like taking a knife and just jamming it down in your stomach and dragging it all the way down through your genital area," he said. "The urologist said the signs can go undetected for years until it hits you like it hit me."
Doctors placed a catheter in Jake's urethra and told him he will need another operation to fix all the damage caused by repeated blows to the groin.
For Jake's father, that recent trip to the emergency room was the first time he had ever heard of ball tapping. "I never in a million years would have thought this was happening to him," said Eddie Arend. "Evidently it's happening at a lot of schools. It's not just his school."
School nurses confirm that's true.