School Spirit Week tug-of-war match goes terribly wrong

Ben Rohrbach
Prep Rally

I haven't played tug-of-war in a while, but I'm pretty sure you're supposed to have all your fingers at the end. Sadly, that's not the case in one game at a California high school.

Two South El Monte (Calif.) High students had multiple fingers severed in a lunchtime tug-of-war competition as part of the school's Spirit Week festivities on Monday, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and KTLA's local news broadcast.

A senior midfielder and defender on the school's girls soccer roster, Edith Rodriguez lost four fingers. Her Eagles (5-4-5) had two games scheduled for this week.

Meanwhile, classmate Pablo Ocegueda "lost several fingers," according to the reports. He played wide receiver and safety in addition to returning kicks for the South El Monte football team this past fall, amassing 514 total yards, 74 tackles, five interceptions and a touchdown for the 7-5 Eagles. He earned All-Area honors from the SGV Tribune.

"Fingers (were) amputated during some type of tug-of-war," L.A. County Fire Capt. Miguel Garcia told the paper. "They were transported by ambulance to a trauma center."

Thankfully, doctors at L.A. County-USC Medical Center surgically reattached their fingers, and family members hope they'll regain full use of their digits, the reports said.

As KTLA reported, there have been similar high school tug-of-war tragedies in Colorado and Minnesota over the past decade. Not to mention the tragic 1,500-person Taiwanese game of tug-of-war in 1997, when two men had their arms ripped off.

Apparently, the two South El Monte students had their fingers and hands wrapped in the rope when it snapped and severed their phalanges. Now that you've officially lost your lunch, that takes us to some of the stranger aspects of the news report.

How nonchalant are the classmates? "The rope, like, broke, and their fingers went with it." "They screamed, they cried."

No mercy when it comes to tug-of-war, I guess. And did the report have to point out that wrapping your hands in the rope is against the rules?

Rules? For tug-of-war? Yes, rules for tug-of-war. In fact, the Tug of War International Federation (yes, there's that, too) produced a 68-page rulebook for the game. Sixty eight pages. For a game where two teams pull a rope back and forth until one side yanks it far enough. In case you were wondering, they also have an anti-doping policy.

According to the reports, the school district is debating whether to keep tug-of-war among the Spirit Week activities in future years. Here's a solution: Don't. I'm avoiding activities that lead to students literally losing a handful of fingers, but that's just me.

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