Schools try to slam lid on POG games


POGs, the innocent-looking children's game that resembles tiddlywinks, has become the latest in a long line of toys to run afoul of parents and teachers.

Area school administrators say POG, a trademark name for a brand of milk caps, has disrupted classes, led to fights and a form of grade-school gambling.

"In the middle of class changes we'd find kids on the floor playing POGs," said Charity McClellan, principal of Chesapeake Bay Middle School in Pasadena, who banned the game in December.

Not too long ago, Garbage Pail Kids were the villains. Before them, Troll dolls were forbidden. Now it's POGs.

POGs have been banned from cafeterias, classrooms and hallways at eight elementary and middle schools in Anne Arundel County, 15 in Carroll County, nine in Howard County, four in Harford County and two in Baltimore County.

Dr. Gary Gottferdson, a Howard County psychologist, said the bans say more about the adults' behavior than that of the children.

"If children don't have POGs, they'd have marbles or trading cards or something else," he said. "It seems silly to ban an innocuous toy just because the adults are having a hard time controlling the kids."

Brian Burns, a fifth-grader at Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Severna Park, doesn't mind the ban that has been in effect at his school since October. He said one classmate lost 30 milk caps during recess.

"POGs were getting stolen and kids were getting ripped off," said Brian, who collects POGs.

Dr. Gerald Scarborough, principal of North Harford Middle school in Harford County, banned the game to prevent such losses.

"You could bring your expensive collection and you could lose all your POGs," Dr. Scarborough said, adding that milk caps "can be worth a lot of money."

They cost 6 cents to 75 cents a piece. Slammers, which are used to flip the milk caps, range in price from $2 for a light, thin, plastic one, to $10 for a heavy, thick brass one.

In the game, two or more players stack a pile of cardboard caps upside down, then one player throws a slammer on top of the pile, hoping to overturn some of the caps.

The flipped caps are collected, and the players continue, stacking and slamming until all of the milk caps have flipped over. The player with the most milk caps wins.

Usually, whoever owns the milk caps gets them back when the game is over. It is the winner-take-all variations that have caused problems.

At Kingsville Elementary School in Baltimore County, Principal Rodney Obaker said he banned the game when he saw what it was doing to the children.

"They started chasing each other around" for a milk cap, he said.

Dr. Joyce Epstein, co-director of the Center on Families, Communities, Schools and Children's Learning at the Johns Hopkins University, said bans at schools can be knee-jerk attempts to regain control.

"Sometimes schools act hastily, and other times they're trying to remove a distraction," she said, adding that the best option is to let children help make the decision.

Dr. Epstein also pointed out that children who are part of the solution are sometimes even more diligent than adults in making sure the rules are followed.

That's what happens at Kathy's New Venture Video, a neighborhood video store in Pasadena and haven for anyone who wants to get into a game of POG.

"I've never had a problem with kids fighting because they know )) they can't gamble with them here," said Kathy McLane, the store's owner.

Ms. McLane hopes schools will lift their bans. Regardless of what happens, Brian Burns is glad things are back to normal at Folger McKinsey.

"Now that [milk caps] are banned, they're not getting stolen," he said. "Kids are just stealing regular stuff now."

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