Thursday, March 21, 2002

Brittanie Cecil

Protection goes only so far

        She came down the stairs with a pair of scissors, quickly, carelessly, dangerously. She held them with the point pointed up and without holding the rail.

        By the time Megan reached the bottom step Tuesday afternoon, I was screaming at her with the voice I save for safety issues — the one designed to make my children stop in their tracks before they step into the path of a speeding car.

        So far, it has worked, and yet I worry. There's no such thing as an overprotective parent in this random, cruel world. No matter what you do, no matter how carefully you plan, horrible things still happen.

        David Cecil took his daughter to a hockey game Saturday night in Columbus. It was an early birthday present. Brittanie Cecil would have been 14 years old Wednesday. It turned out to be the day of her autopsy.

Freak fatality

        With 12:20 remaining in the second period of the Blue Jackets' game against Calgary, Columbus center Espen Knutsen launched a slap shot from the left faceoff circle that was deflected by defenseman Derek Morris.

        The puck sailed over the glass, into the stands, and struck Brittanie Cecil in row 19, on the left temple. The eighth-grade honor student walked out of Nationwide Arena but died two days later from the arterial damage of the accident.

        It was a freak fatality, believed to be the first of its kind in the 85-year history of the NHL. And yet, as a parent, you can't help but wonder if it might have been prevented somehow: higher glass or netting, softer pucks — something.

        On the stick of an elite player, a six-ounce hockey puck becomes a lethal weapon. Al MacInnis' slap shot has been clocked at 110.4 mph, and few fans have the reflexes to react at that speed.

        Accordingly, each NHL ticket carries a disclaimer absolving the host team of responsibility for injuries incidental to the game. Each league arena is required to install protective glass 40-48 inches above the boards to shield spectators from stray pucks.

        A Blue Jackets spokesman declined Wednesday to specify the dimensions of the glass at Nationwide Arena, except that it met or exceeded requirements.

Token gestures

        At the Cincinnati Gardens, home of the AHL's Mighty Ducks, the height of the glass ranges from 6 feet on the sides to 8 feet behind the goals. So far, that has been sufficient.

        “You do everything you can to tell people to be careful,” said Pete Robinson, the Ducks' chief executive officer. “In our first public address announcement, we emphasize pucks are flying objects.

        “It's like a baseball game, where people get hit by foul balls. Sitting behind the dugouts can be a little scary.”

        The Blue Jackets will observe a moment of silence before tonight's game in memory of Brittanie Cecil. Stickers bearing her initials will be applied to the players' helmets. The team's Web site carries a notice on how to contribute to the Brittanie Cecil Fund.

        These may seem token gestures, but token gestures are about all that tragedy allows us. You can teach your children to be careful, but you can protect them only to a point.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or e-mail:


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