Joel Smith remembers his son Skyler as a sports fan. The 12-year-old loved the Boise State Broncos and couldn’t get enough of baseball.
“He wanted to pitch,” Smith said. “He was a 12-year-old with a major league arm.”
But Skyler didn’t get a chance to play baseball this season. The blue-eyed kid with the big smile died on May 30, Smith said, after playing the choking game, where kids cut off oxygen to their brains for a temporary high.
Twin Falls Police Department wasn’t ready to release its report on Skyler’s death by Wednesday afternoon, and Smith doesn’t like to talk about the day Skyler died. Instead, the Twin Falls dad is channeling his grief into educating other parents about the choking game.
The choking game — also called the fainting game, choke-out and other names — gives participants a brief high due to the lack of oxygen reaching the brain. Kids press on each other’s necks, for instance, or tie shoelaces around their necks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the game can cause serious neurological injury or death if the strangulation is prolonged.
Smith had never heard of the choking game before Skyler’s death, and knows some other parents are similarly uninformed. He hopes to speak at Magic Valley schools this fall and teach students that this game is dangerous; he’s still planning his pitch, and no schools have committed yet, he said.
Wiley Dobbs, superintendent of the Twin Falls School District, said that when a TwinFalls student dies, counselors are available to help students who were friends with the deceased child. If the cause of death was traumatic, they might contact parents or make additional counseling available. After Skyler’s death, however, school employees didn’t discuss the choking game with students.
“That situation, we’re just not aware of the facts surrounding it,” he said.
“In our health classes, we talk about good, healthy lifestyles,” he said. Teachers address the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but not the choking game.
“It’s a fine line,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re including the parents in situations like that, because you don’t want to, you know, bring attention to something that parents may not want us visiting with our students about.”
At Twin Falls’ Harmon Park on Tuesday, some parents had heard of the choking game, while others were surprised.
“I’ve heard of it on television,” said Keven Rambo.
“What is it?” asked Chris McManaman. Rambo and Chris’ mother, Louise McManaman, explained. “Are you kidding? They do it to themselves?” Chris asked.
Rambo and Chris McManaman called over their kids to ask about the choking game. Rambo’s daughter, 12-year-old Jenna Rambo, had never heard of it. But the boys had. They knew people who had played but said they had never tried it themselves.
“I don’t really feel like dying,” said McManaman’s 12-year-old son, Robbie Bowles.
The choking game reminded Chris McManaman of other stupid things kids do, like smoking synthetic marijuana and mimicking professional wrestling. She keeps an eye on her children, steering them away from some of the potentially dangerous activities she sees at the Twin Falls skate park.
“I’m always right here with my kids,” she said.
Grandparents Louise McManaman and Debbie Lyden said the choking game was around when their children were teens, about 15 years ago.
“It’s crazy,” Lyden said.
Across the park, a group of boys mimed the different ways to make each other, or themselves, pass out. Some techniques involved hyperventilating and pressing on their throats; others involved choke holds. You can “tap out” if it gets too scary, they explained. They know from experience.
“I tapped out in the first three seconds,” said Jonah Robinson, 13.
Jaydon Page, 12, won’t join his friends in the game.
“No, never,” he said. He knows it’s dangerous, he said, and besides, “my mom and dad would kill me.”
When the boys at the skate park found out about Skyler’s death, their eyes grew wide. Adam Moreno, 13, had played football with Skyler, he said. Moreno tried the choking game once, but “not anymore.”
That’s the change in attitude Smith is looking for.
“The pain that we feel is unexplainable,” he said. He hopes he can prevent another family from feeling the same way.
Reporter Melissa Davlin may be reached at 735-3234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.