Justin Schmeltz, left, and Anthony Glorioso swallow live goldfish as part of a Perrysburg High School senior tradition. The Wood County Health Department says the act does not violate any health codes.
A Perrysburg High School senior tradition of swallowing live goldfish at halftime of the home boys basketball game against Maumee has been found to not violate any health codes.
Global Conservation Group, located in Wisconsin, had complained about the practice to the Wood County Health Department, saying that it was cruel to animals, a health risk, and “likely” a direct violation of health department regulations.
“Technically, there are no health code violations,” said Pam Butler, Wood County Health Commissioner. “We can advise them not to do it, but we can’t forbid them from doing it.”
Ms. Butler said she emailed Perrysburg Superintendent of Schools Tom Hosler asking him to request that the students stop. The school district took the opportunity as a learning experience and referred it to the student council for debate.
“If we continue it or not, this will provide experience the students can take forward in college and their careers about dealing with issues with multiple perspectives,” Mr. Hosler said. “The conversation reported to me was that students were in favor of keeping the tradition, but no action was taken.”
The student council was supposed to have another meeting about the issue, but it was postponed because of a snow day. Council is expected to reschedule that discussion.
The tradition began when a few Perrysburg students ate worms before a Maumee game in 1981, according to a Perrysburg High School yearbook, and the icky food of choice later changed to live goldfish. The event initially took place at midcourt, but was eventually moved outside the gymnasium because of the mess it created, according to Principal Michael Short.
Students want to take part in the tradition that their parents and older siblings did, Mr. Hosler said, adding that alumni also have pleaded with him to allow the practice to continue.
This year’s Maumee game at Perrysburg was played Dec. 19, but the goldfish matter didn’t become an issue until People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals began emailing school administrators in early February.
“PETA contacted us, the Perrysburg prosecutor, police chief, and there’s nothing in the code they are violating,” Ms. Butler said.
The Global Conservation Group complaint said tapeworms are a health risk from eating goldfish. Ms. Butler doubted that, saying most pet-store goldfish are domestically born and bred, rather than being wild and disease-prone.
Historical research, she added, revealed that eating goldfish used to be more popular.
“As a mom I would say no, but in my position I can only recommend they don’t,” she said.