Lawn darts, COVID-19, and peeing in the pool: A family reunion


For some odd reason, over the last few days, there’s been a lot of thought given to lawn darts (aka lawn jarts). Yes, lawn darts, a popular outdoor game played similar to horseshoes or corn hole over many a summer starting sometime in the 1950s.

For me, growing up in the 1980s, two things always stood out when it came to lawn darts. There was a particular uneasy pleasure in their obvious danger and the ensuing ban in the United States when a thrown dart killed a child.

I don’t recall lawn darts in any childhood neighborhoods, but there is a vague memory of not one but several sets at a family reunion. A dozen-plus cousins aimlessly and thus haphazardly throwing any number of darts towards the circular plastic ground target several feet away.

Minus any adult supervision, the game was not about points but the ability to throw the dart in as high an arc as possible, followed by a blink-and-miss-it quick tumble back to earth. The distinct click of plastic from the fins as the hefty metal tip sliced easily into the ground.

It was a mix of youth and assured invincibility, at least, until it came time to retrieve the darts.

Perhaps the lackluster retrieval process was due to someone, inevitably, having held back a dart and daring to throw it as someone set about collecting darts around the target. The unannounced throw all for the sheer pleasure of eliciting terror, of course. There’s a memory of shoulders cinched up to earlobes with the shoulder blades pulled inward like they could catch a tossed dart and thus spare the rest of the body from a painful disaster.

Speaking of bodies, it seems we always retrieved the darts, pulling them as quickly as possible out of the ground, bent over in an attempt to avoid the blades of an imaginary helicopter, or maybe that was only me.

Lawn darts may have come to mind due to the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 given the familiar feel of shoulders to earlobes, blades pulled together for a catch, and defensive posturing to ward off uncertainty. Or maybe it is a little more than that …

In 1987, after the accidental death of his seven-year-old daughter from a lawn dart, David Snow vowed to have the toy banned.

At the time, the Consumer Product Safety Commission worked via voluntary compliance with manufacturers. In short, manufacturers made the call on whether or not their product was safe. If that sounds like a conflict of interest, it is and to unfortunate results.

An investigation spurred by Snow revealed that lawn darts were responsible for some 6,100 injuries over eight years. Out of those, 81 percent were under the age of 15, with half under the age of ten. Injuries included the head, eye, ear, and face, some of those injuries permanent.

Snow’s daughter was not the only child killed, meaning the lawn dart was already under scrutiny with a ban on it being advertised to children. It was to be labeled for able-bodied adults only. For Snow, much to his anguish, he never noticed what is described as a 2-inch by 4-inch warning label on a three-foot-tall package that was displayed next to what he claims were Barbie dolls.

Of course, there’s more to the story. Plus, a much younger version of me is shaking her head with the silent condemnation I have gotten old and thus no fun. And yes, a virus and a lawn dart are two very different things. However, they both have a notable relation beyond cinched shoulders, and that is the word voluntary. Manufacturers were allowed to make the voluntary determination of product safety until the law was changed. It is similar to parts of the country when it comes to lockdown, social distancing, and the like for COVID-19.

Some states are voluntarily putting in restrictions, bans, and so forth while others are choosing not to, which is unfortunate. It is similar to another family reunion hazard, best summed up by something recently shared via social media on lockdowns across the country — Having some states lockdown and some states not lockdown is like having a peeing section in the swimming pool.

By Bethany J. Royer-DeLong

Pushing Ink

Bethany J. Royer-DeLong is a reporter for the Daily Advocate and Early Bird and a life-long resident of Darke County. She holds a bachelor’s degree in work psychology and a master’s degree in organizational leadership because she’s a sucker for all things jobs. You may reach her at [email protected].

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