A balloon game some Durango High School athletes played during a pep rally Friday has riled some students and parents over its inappropriate nature, prompting the principal to email an apology to parents.
During the activity, male students held inflated balloons on their laps and chests while female students either sat or laid on top of them and bounced up and down in attempt to pop them. A student shared a video of the game on Snapchat, a social media platform that allows videos to be posted by location.
The sexualized nature of the game upset a parent who learned about it from her daughter, a DHS student.
“There are so many other things you can do at a pep assembly to get kids excited,” said the parent, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid backlash against her daughter. She said school staff should have stepped in to prevent the activity from taking place.
The parent said her daughter was also upset about the game.
The game took place during the Unified/Spring Sports assembly, DHS Principal Jon Hoerl said in a letter to parents. Seniors representing each sport participated in the balloon game, he wrote. He acknowledged that many “questioned the appropriateness.”
“I apologize for any discomfort resulting from this event and appreciate your patience while I conduct a thorough investigation,” he wrote.
Sexual Assault Services Organization Executive Director Maura Doherty Demko said she was disappointed to learn the game was played.
“Things that appear benign are those pieces that open the ground for more severe harassment – eventually assault, because it’s played off as a joke,” Demko said.
SASO works with Durango School District 9-R to provide education about sexual consent and respect, she said.
“I know that 9-R is a huge advocate of teaching boundaries, teaching consent and teaching respect, so to me this is conflicting,” she said.
Fort Lewis College senior Matisse Monty said she can understand the argument by people who say it was an innocent game and that some may dismiss it as harmless. However, the fact that the activity wasn’t questioned before it was played illustrates how rape culture is normalized, said Monty, a public health and sociology major, who educates her peers about sex.
“I don’t think we want to be a society or a community that finds that it’s acceptable and isn’t sensitive to these issues,” she said of normalizing rape culture. Rape culture is an environment where sexual violence is acceptable.
Julie Popp, 9-R spokeswoman, said the district is investigating the situation and will address issues appropriately and according to district policy. The district is also communicating with parents, she said.
“While we know that assemblies are great peer networking and school engagement events, we do not condone activities that don’t support our educational mission,” she said.
Jessica Wheeler, a member of the Durango High School’s accountability committee, said she could not comment about what took place because she was not familiar with it. But she said she plans to ask about how it was handled at the committee’s next meeting.
“I have a lot of confidence in Jon Hoerl that he will follow up and make sure the situation is reviewed and handled,” she said.