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Trampoline park says have fun, but keep it safe

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  December 10, 2010 10:09 AM

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)


Khoral Jones, 5, has a bounce on Sky Zone’s large court.

In a large, former industrial space in the Boston/Dedham Commerce Park, a five-year-old girl was giddily bouncing up and down. Not far away, adults and bigger kids were jumping as high as they could — five feet, seven feet in the air — some doing backflips. Around the corner, a group of children pelted each other with dodgeballs.

The air was filled with laughter, the sounds of people and balls bouncing, and the occasional cry of a whistle, as an employee cautioned a visitor to exercise care.

It was just another Saturday afternoon at Hyde Park’s recently opened Sky Zone indoor trampoline park, where more than a thousand people from throughout Greater Boston came out for a jump in the first 10 days of business.

Darrell Jones, 30, watched from the edge of a giant trampoline court — 6,450 square feet in size — as his five-year-old daughter Khoral Jones excitedly bounced in an area set aside for smaller children. He confessed to being tempted to try jumping himself.

“But I just came from working out, so I’m not going to do anything more right now,” he said. “Next time I come, I’ll probably hop on.”

That’s just the kind of talk Sky Zone franchise owner Stella Downie wants to hear.

“I feel like people should have the opportunity to play — not just kids, but everybody,” Downie said.

Downie, 41, has made playtime an important part of her life, from her earlier days working with youth at the Center for Teen Empowerment to running her own toy store — Stellabella Toys in Cambridge’s Inman Square — to this, her latest venture.

“Play is an important aspect of community, and it’s not always so easy to find a place to play, especially for adults,” she said.

There was some serious play going on at the dodgeball court — a smaller, 2,600-square-foot network of trampolines — where another father happily watched from the sidelines.

“I like it. It does a lot for the kids,” said Thomas Williams Sr., 41, an MBTA employee visiting the park with his sons Tommy, 12, and Jordan, 9. “They’re already tired out from it, so they’re getting their exercise in.”

The kids were playing hard, throwing the dodgeball with all their might, but a court monitor kept a close eye on them to make sure they were minding the rules of the park.

Williams felt secure that it was a safe environment for his sons to play in. “Everything looks pretty safe, as far as the side of the nets and the padding,” he said.

For Downie and her staff, ensuring the bouncers’ safety is the primary responsibility.

“We want everybody to be happy,” Downie said. “But it’s a line between safety and happy.”

She said so far they had only one injury, incurred when a boy got hit in the face by a ball during a dodgeball game.

“It was not that somebody threw it at his head; it was more that he jumped into it,” Downie said.

Sky Zone’s trampoline courts are made up of many small trampolines arranged in a grid, with thick layers of padding covering the metal support structure. The walls of each court are trampolines set at an angle, so there’s no danger of bouncing off the side. Only the entrance to each court is open, and there are strictly enforced no-bouncing rules for jumpers entering and leaving.

“Those adaptations that eliminate falling off and falling through” take away many of the dangers of notoriously hazardous backyard trampolines, Downie said.

Beyond those measures, Sky Zone relies on constant monitoring and a strictly observed set of rules to further enhance safety. All the staff have first-aid training, and Downie said they work hard to make sure everyone knows the rules and understands that those rules exist to protect them and their fellow-bouncers.

“I think our job at this point is to really invest our customers in our safety procedures,” she said. “And most people here have been really invested in it, but sometimes you might have to remind parents who want to bounce right next to their four-year-old that you can’t really do that.

As each group enters the trampoline area, a greeter explains the rules of play. On Saturday, the greeter was Andrea Pollack, 26, who lives in Arlington. During the week, Pollack is a teaching assistant and coaches basketball and soccer at Wellesley High School, so she’s used to watching out for young athletes and ensuring that they’re playing safely.

“It’s one. Person. Per. Box,” she said, gently but firmly. “No double-jumping. If you’re jumping from box to box, that is OK, but you need to make sure you’re watching where you’re going.”

Each trampoline court has monitors to enforce the rules — always at least one on the dodgeball court and at least two on the big, open court — more during peak times. They ensure that all visitors are where they’re supposed to be and that they’re following the rules, and they watch out for forbidden objects such as food, drink and anything that could cause injury.

Court Monitor Jim Williamson, 26, said that safety is his paramount concern.

“These kids are going to have fun no matter what,” he said. “But safety is something they’re not always thinking of.”

Barclay Poole, director of marketing for Sky Zone, said that its first three company-owned locations had served about 1.2 million jumpers since the first opened in 2004, and only about half of 1 percent of those had any kind of injury.

“That’s anything from a stubbed toe to a sprained ankle and beyond,” said Poole. “It’s a physical activity. It is going to happen that we’re going to have the occasional injury. … But that’s a pretty low number.”

He said most injuries at Sky Zone were a result of people not being mindful of their own physical limitations or violating the rules.

Dr. Lyle Micheli, director of sports medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston, said most trampoline-related injuries come from children playing on backyard trampolines without adult supervision.

“We think that trampolines should have limited use, and when used should be in a supervised environment — they have proper spotters, they have one person on a trampoline at a time,” Micheli said. “We’re not saying no trampolines, we’re just saying if there are trampoline situations, they should be well supervised by knowledgeable personnel.”

Micheli hasn’t seen the setup at Sky Zone yet, but based on a description of the park, he said it sounded like it had taken proper safety precautions. “With proper padding, I think it might be a reasonably safe thing,” he said.

But he cautioned that very small children probably shouldn’t be on trampolines even with monitoring.

“The Academy of Pediatrics recommendation says that no children under the age of six should be on a trampoline,” he said.

At Sky Zone, smaller children are allowed on trampolines, but below a certain height they must play in the toddlers’ area where no adults or larger kids are allowed on the court. Poole said that in his experience, children that small were usually not bouncing high enough or hard enough that they could get hurt.

“I would say that group is probably the group that’s had the lowest rate of injury,” he said.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.

Sky Zone 2.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)


Jonathan Comeau, 23, of Somerville, executes a backflip on Sky Zone’s large court.

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