Two boys on a New Brunswick high school basketball team have been kicked off the team after teaching younger players how to create a feeling of euphoria by cutting off the flow of blood to the brain.
The boys' basketball team from Harvey Station, about 50 kilometres southwest of Fredericton, was on an overnight trip to Grand Manan Island on Jan. 25 when two of the older boys on the team showed some younger players how to play the "choking game."
The so-called game involves restricting the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain to create a feeling of lightheadedness followed by a momentary euphoric rush before passing out.
Two older Harvey High School basketball players went to the hotel room of younger players on Friday night and asked their teammates if they wanted to learn the game.
A player's mother who accompanied the team on the trip learned about the incident the next day.
"I found out about it through a conversation … on the ferry on the way back across," said Shari Gillespie, who is also an assistant coach for Harvey's girls' basketball team.
"The boys kind of were downplaying it and joking about it like it was something, you know, just fun and cool," Gillespie told CBC News. "I was quite shocked."
Two players were kicked off the team because of the incident. One of them has also been suspended from school.
Students accuse school of overreacting
School officials say they are planning more disciplinary action for the students involved in the incident.
"I was sort of astounded that first of all it would happen," said school principal David MacMullin.
MacMullin said he was also surprised to find that the students involved felt he was overreacting about the incident.
"They didn't have a level of knowledge that they should have had," MacMullin said.
Self-asphyxiation is practiced mostly by children between the ages of nine and 16. Also known as the fainting game, it can cause serious brain injury or even death.
A handful of deaths in Canada have been attributed to it since 2001, including those of a nine-year-old Albertan, Kalib Bryant; an Ontario boy, Jesse Grant, 12; and Nova Scotian teen Jesse Daviau.
The total number of deaths linked to the game are difficult to pinpoint because when children start trying to get the high alone — often using belts, bed sheets, shoelaces or electrical cords — they can appear to be suicides.
"I think parents really need to be informed that this isn't just some little prank or joke that the kids are doing with one another," Gillespie said. "It can become addictive, and there can certainly be terrible consequences that can come out of it."
Harvey High School is preparing an information sheet to send to parents with the report cards that will be sent home next week.