Justin Schmeltz, left and Anthony Glorioso swallow live goldfish as part of a Perrysburg High School tradition during halftime of the Maumee basketball game.
An annual tradition of swallowing goldfish during halftime at a Perrysburg High School basketball game has caught the attention of officials with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who say the practice is against the law.
After receiving phone calls from local residents, PETA is reaching out to the police and health department about the student tradition in an attempt to stop it.
Once a year when basketball players from Perrysburg’s rival, Maumee High School, travel across the river, the seniors swallow live goldfish during halftime of the varsity boys basketball game — this year, it happened Dec. 19.
Jenna Vaughan, an animal cruelty case worker, said eating the fish is a violation of Ohio’s anti-cruelty laws and she is awaiting responses from the police and health departments.
She reached out to the school’s administration after receiving calls from local residents who she said expressed concern.
“The superintendent said he is giving the students the opportunity to make a decision on it,” she said. “The school district has the opportunity to do the right thing and make a policy not to accept this behavior. But they are letting the students decide. We hope law enforcement steps in to put an end to the tradition permanently.”
In a statement, Perrysburg Schools said they asked the student council and student government representatives to debate the issue and provide the administration with their findings and a recommendation.
“We’ve heard from people across the country concerned about the tradition; we’re giving the kids a chance to examine it,” Perrysburg Superintendent Tom Hosler said. “We’re respectful to others’ beliefs and are using this as a great learning experience.”
He said it is ultimately an administration decision, but they want to engage the students.
The tradition began in 1981 when a few students ate worms before a game, according to a Perrysburg High School yearbook. At some point, the tradition turned from worms to goldfish. The event also used to take place at mid-court, but the mess that ensued forced them to take it outside, according to Principal Michael Short.
Ms. Vaughan said concerns about the tradition are human-related too. She said eating goldfish has health risks that include potential parasite and disease transmission. She is also worried about the goldfish.
“They have the capacity to feel severe pain. Their nervous system is almost identical to mammals,” she said. “The burning from ingestion acids has to be excruciating and terrifying for animals with no means of escaping.”