5 On Your Side

Child's death brings soccer safety hazard to light

Posted October 18, 2010 5:01 p.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2010 6:30 p.m. EDT

Soccer is popular with children, but there's a serious safety hazard on the field – portable goals. Half a million of them are in use in the U.S. and can weigh up to 400 pounds each. If not properly secured, they can tip over.

Hayden Ellias, 10, of Virginia, was a star soccer player until a game in May 2007 ended his life.

“We could see Hayden lying lifeless on the ground with the goal on top of him,” said his mother, Mary Ellias. “I knew it was bad.”

Mary Ellias immediately called 911.

"At the time, I thought it was a freak accident. I was calling it a freak accident, but it's not a freak accident,” she said.

Experts say the problem is that soccer goals are heaviest in the front and can tip without warning. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, at least 34 children have died since 1979 from injuries caused by overturned soccer goals. Every year, more than 200 players are hurt.

Many of the incidents involve head injuries that happened when goals tipped while children were climbing or hanging from the bars. Some fatal tip-overs happened when the victim was doing pull-ups or after a gust of wind.

To protect players, goals are supposed to be held down with sand bags or stakes. 

"If I put weight on the front of this goal, you'll see it's not going to go. It's not going to swing,” said soccer referee Kevin Kayehe.

Referees are required to check goals before every game to make sure they're properly secured. Mary Ellias says parents need to double check.

Mary Ellias has since started a website in her son's honor called Hayden's Goal, and it's goal is to educate parents on how to help keep their children safe on the soccer field.

“I promised Hayden his death would not be in vain, because nobody else should have horrible memories,” she said.

Mary Ellias has other children who play soccer. Her family always brings sandbags with them just in case they find unanchored goals.

Safety experts say parents should also talk with their children about the dangers of portable soccer goals. Finally, goals should be taken down when they're not in use so kids can't play on them.