Soccer goals pose risk to children

February 28, 2012 6:15:08 PM PST
Rain or shine, Kim Zinner watches her 15-year-old son Matthew at soccer practice. She's the manager of his team at CASL - the Capital Area Soccer League - in Raleigh. Like many soccer moms, Zinner said she didn't consider a soccer goal something that could be dangerous.

"I don't think that every parent shows up at a game and immediately worries about the goals," she explained.

But that changed in January when 9-year-old Juan Escalera died in Sampson County. An unsecured goal toppled over on his head at a soccer field in Newton Grove.

Click here to read about that story

Nine thousand kids play soccer with CASL. It's the nation's largest soccer league of its kind. Chief Operating Officer Michael Milazzo said the Sampson County incident prompted his group to review its practices.

"A bad occurrence had to happen for us to really take notice," he explained. "Are we doing the right thing? Are we being the leaders? And really to take a hard look at ourselves and saying 'Listen, we owe it to these kids to create that safe environment.'"

Milazzo said if a soccer goal isn't properly anchored to the ground, it can tip over - falling with a weight of as much as 400 pounds.

"It will cause bodily harm [to] anyone standing within [an] eight foot radius, because of the weight and the materials that it is made up of," said Milazzo.

And even if a soccer goal is set up properly, there are still risks.

"Even with sand bags, with proper anchoring, if we have 30/40 mph winds, those goals could very well fall over. That's based on how they're made, and certainly where they're placed," said Milazzo. "Kids like to hang on them. They think of them as jungle gyms, and that's where the biggest concern is."

The death of Juan Escalera is not an isolated case. The advocacy group Anchored for Safety reports 37 people have been killed by falling soccer goals since 1979. The Consumer Product Safety Commission also says 1,600 people are injured in various kinds of accidents with soccer goals every year.

Click here for a video about the problem from Anchored for Safety

The Illinois legislature passed a new last year that bans the sale or manufacture of new soccer goals that are not tip resistant. The move came after the death of 6-year-old Zack Tran who died outside Chicago nearly 10 years ago.

"He was playing around the soccer field with the little boys on his team and his coaches. I stepped away to take one of his little friends to the restroom, and when I came back, the goal was on top of Zack's head," said Zack's mother Michelle Tran.

The Illinois law also requires older soccer goals to be properly anchored.

The ABC11 I-Team did a random check of soccer goals across the Triangle. We found several that were not anchored and others in need of repair. On public fields not managed by CASL, we discovered a goal held together with masking tape and a bicycle chain. Another was not properly bolted with the base disconnected from the rest of the goal.

Some did not have warning labels on them - as recommended by Consumer Product Safety guidelines.

At one CASL managed field, we found a goal with a loose support bar. ABC11 called anonymously to report the safety problem, and CASL fixed it within 24 hours.

Milazzo told us maintaining thousands of soccer goals is a big job.

"On a weekly basis, the goals are being evaluated, the nets are being evaluated, not only for functionality but also for safety. We have a conscious effort in terms of anchoring the goals," he explained.

Milazzo said if parents see a problem on a soccer field, it's important to report it right away - and talk about the dangers with kids.

This spring, Zack Tran's family plans to launch an effort in Washington to get a federal law passed like the one in Illinois. The Consumer Product Safety Commission also said there's a move underway to change the standard for soccer goals.

In North Carolina, the tragic death of Juan Escalera has woken awareness of the problem.

"There's probably only been a couple of days since Juan's death ... where I haven't had a student come up to me and said 'I miss Juan' or 'Juan loved to play soccer,' they just mention him all the time," said Tonya Colwell - Juan's principal at Midway Elementary in Dunn.

Parents say they now understand they need to keep an eye on the fields where their children play soccer.

"Learn through, unfortunately, the tragedy of others," said Kim Zinner. "And that's where public awareness is important."

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