A dangerous, new trend is apparently developing in Olean schools - a choking “game” that can be deadly under some circumstances.

At Tuesday night’s Olean Common Council meeting, Mayor Linda Witte had Olean City Police Chief Terry Schnell talk to the council and the audience about what he called the “cloud nine” game, among other nicknames. He also spoke to the Times Herald on Wednesday about what some students are doing inside school walls.

“What happens is one individual will hyperventilate, and then they place themselves against the wall and another individual will choke them until they pass out,” Chief Schnell said.

The “assistant” applies force on the individual’s throat or chest to cause them to pass out. School officials say that as oxygen returns to the brain, a 5- to 10-second high is experienced; followed by a rush as pressure is removed from the body, causing dammed-up blood to surge through the carotid artery.

Gerald Trietley, principal of Olean Middle School; and Assistant Principal Larry Welty said the issue came to their attention around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, when Mr. Welty overheard a group of students talking about a “pass-out game.”

“I had a student come to me (and say) that there were students in the bathroom doing it,” Mr. Welty added.

“They admitted it to me. They didn’t realize the implications of what they were doing,” he said.

When school officials questioned them about the incident, students said someone told them how to do it last weekend at the Salamanca Ice Rink. Some children were also reportedly playing the game at the local YMCA.

“Through the investigation, we started to find out there are probably 20 students from the middle school who either witnessed it or took part in it,” Mr. Trietley said. “We then heard … that a couple of our kids did it in the bathroom here.”

Chief Schnell had reported at that least five cases had occurred Tuesday at the middle school.

Hoping the public grasps the dangers of this activity, Chief Schnell cited a recent “60 Minutes” episode that told the story of father who found his daughter’s lifeless body in her bedroom. She had used a strap to choke herself and didn’t wake up.

Those who survive sometimes suffer convulsions or seizures, according to the police chief.

“Kids are using cell phones to (videotape) it, and it’s quite disturbing,” he said.

The practice seems to be most prevalent in middle-school-age children, Chief Schnell explained. Officials believe this may be because choking is a way to get a “high” without actually using drugs or alcohol.

“What we found out is that this has been going on for generations and generations,” Mr. Trietley said. “I think the kids feel it’s safe.”

To hear Olean officials talk, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Even if the “player” in this game survives, the actual asphyxiation is also dangerous because it could cause children doing it in the bathroom to lose consciousness and hit the floor or sinks.

“We want the parents and kids to know that this is not a game,” Chief Schnell said. “It can seriously go wrong and go wrong very quickly, and we don’t want to find someone that’s comatose or who has passed away.”

Any sort of tragedy involving this game could have far-reaching repercussions.

“If something were to happen to a child from another child, I think, yes, you could be facing charges,” Chief Schnell said. He would not confirm whether the offender could face charges of involuntary manslaughter.

Schools officials hope this can be avoided by letting students know that they’re watching for suspicious activity. Those who witness it are being urged to make a stand personally or tell an adult who can take action.

“We’re not looking at punishment; we’re looking at education,” said Dr. Colleen Taggerty, superintendent of Olean City School District.

Mr. Trietley added, “We spoke to every child that was involved in this or was a witness to it. We contacted their parents as well.”

Officials are looking at contacting a physician or another expert on the subject to host an assembly in the next week. Mr. Trietley has already written a letter to be sent to parents in the district, along with warning other local school districts about “cloud nining.”

In the meantime, Chief Schnell has a clear idea of what parents should to do protect their children.

“Talk to their kids,” he said. “The best thing, I feel, is information. If they have a cell phone, I would be checking their cell phone for video or pictures of it.”

Those with teenage children may also want to take note of the activity’s many nicknames on the Internet, which include choking game; pass-out game; space cowboy; good kids’ game, derived from its absence of drug or alcohol use; suffocation roulette; and many more.

“We need our children to be safe,” Dr. Taggerty said. “Parents need their children to be safe.”

(Contact reporter Adam Vosler at avosler@oleantimesherald.com)

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