COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A two-syllable word cracked the silence over the school playground, shouted by the first student to dash out of the school doors at recess.
Each syllable was drawn out as 10-year-old Addi Holcomb yelled "gaga," the name of a dodgeball-like game played in a low-walled enclosure called a "pit" that was the finish line of her dash at Edison Intermediate Middle School in Grandview Heights.
Lines of as many as 50 students waiting to play the game wrapped around the pit for the next hour. Gaga -- Hebrew for "touch touch" -- has long been a staple at Jewish summer camps but has spread to schools and secular camps nationwide.
"It's really kind of taken over the camp world by storm," said Brad McCain, the associate executive director of the Jerry L. Garver YMCA in Canal Winchester. "It's spilled over to schools and also filtered across the U.S."
Students who played it at a summer camp brought it to Edison, and parents built the wood-walled, octagonal pit last month. It's so popular that the pit is reserved for certain grades on different days.
The object of the game is to swat a ball out of the air and hit another player with it below the waist, eliminating that player. Ten children play at a time at Edison, but the game can accommodate dozens. It's fast, but action stays low to the ground as the ball ricochets off the walls, which fans say makes the game safer than traditional dodgeball.
However, a national group of physical-education experts denounces the game as dangerous. Schools have reported to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education that children have suffered head injuries and been bullied while playing.
"We call it the 'bully pit,'" said Sheila Jones, physical-education supervisor in Loudoun County schools in Virginia, a district of more than 66,000 students. At one school, she said, the game has led to eight head injuries in a year. "It's very physical. Kids get hit, fall backwards; they get hit in the face."
Local school and camp leaders said that doesn't sound like the game they play. At Edison, students are competitive, but even those who quickly were eliminated were eager to get back in the fray.
Players who knock the ball over the low wall are out, which McCain said deters head hits. And teachers at Edison modified the rules so that players rotate in when someone is eliminated so that more can play.
"You don't really have to be good at sports to be good at the game," said Tyler Gardner, 12, a seventh-grade student at Edison.
Companies that sell parts and instructions for pits say they receive hundreds of orders a year, and business has boomed in recent years. But the game isn't new.
"I've had people who said they played since they were kids in the '70s," said Cliff Silverman of Coach Cliff's Gaga Ball Pits in Waukegon, Ill. "I've heard that it started somewhere in the '50s."
Leaders at Camp Wise, a Jewish summer camp near Cleveland, say lore has it that a man visiting Israel saw a handball game, tweaked it and took the result to a camp in Australia before a similar version ended up in U.S. camps.
"I can't remember a time that we didn't play gaga," said Rachel Felber, the assistant director of Camp Wise.
Summer residents at Camp Hoover, a local Jewish camp, flocked to gaga last year, playing with makeshift barriers or none at all. Next summer, leaders plan to meet growing demand for the game with a new pit.
"It's catching on," said Mark Moscardino, camp director. "Every other Jewish summer camp has one. I decided Camp Hoover needs one, too."
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com