PRINEVILLE, Ore. - A Prineville teen is recovering from an injury to his groin after being the victim of what some call a "game." "Sack tapping," as it's called, comes with harsh consequences.
The mother whose son was hurt admits he played it with his friends. But she says bullies sent him to the hospital.
"He said that it could possibly affect his ability to have children when he's older," the mother recalls her son's doctor telling her.
This is an ongoing problem, one that's not isolated just to Crook County Middle School. School officials told NewsChannel 21 they're desperately trying to put a stop to it.
Not wanting to be identified, but wanting others to know what happened to her son, the Prineville woman told NewsChannel 21 what happened in October.
"He called me from school and said, 'I'm hurting I got hit,' and so I came down and he could barely walk," the mother said.
Thinking his pediatrician would have the answer, she took him there, but they were quickly referred to Bend Surgical Associates. An ultrasound found a hernia in the boy's left groin.
"Hernias can grow very large and be disabling," said Dr. Michael Mastrangelo.
Mastrangelo says there's no way to tell if the striking caused the boy's hernia. The teen also had one as a toddler. Regardless, the doctor believes being hit caused the boy excruciating pain -- and a need for surgery.
"He was in pain up until the day of the surgery, and then afterward -- it was just heartbreaking," the mother said.
What's worse, the boy had to go back to school and again face his bullies.
"Every time he starts to get well, someone comes up and strikes him there and it starts the whole cycle over again," Mastrangelo said Wednesday.
The teen's nurse called his school to make sure he had a safe place to return to.
"Most of our students are wonderful kids," said Crook County Middle School Director of Students Doug Bristow.
But as it has in many other schools, this trend has taken over. One boy who hit the teen after his surgery was cited for assault by Prineville police.
The mother says she believes the punishment fits the crime of her son's bully.
More than five Crook County Middle School students have been suspended for hitting their peers below the belt. Victims can talk directly to school staff or fill out a harassment letter.
"It's where a person can express what kind of interaction they've experienced, and we respond to that in a proactive way," Bristow said.
But because of the sensitive and strange nature of the game, many kids won't tell mom and dad.
"If it wasn't for him getting this hernia, I would probably still never know," the boy's mother said.
It's a scary reality for a mom now footing the bill to get her son healthy.
NewsChannel 21 wants to make it clear -- this is not just a Crook County Middle School issue. Schools across the country are dealing with boys and girls playing this "game."
If there is a report of the hitting, and it's found to be true, the Crook County student gets suspended for several days. Since January, two Crook County Middle School students have been cited for assault by Prineville police.