Three Harford County schools are pulling the plug on POGs, the colorful cardboard tokens fashioned after milk-bottle caps.
The silver-dollar-sized caps, which children collect and trade, may seem innocuous with their bright designs and pictures of cartoon characters, athletes and pop stars. But they have given school officials cause for concern when they're used in a popular game.
Officials at North Harford and Fallston middle schools and Deerfield Elementary in Edgewood have asked children not to bring the POG caps to school.
"It's a form of gambling," said Harford schools spokesman Donald R. Morrison. "We have strict prohibitions against kids and employees gambling on school property."
In a revised version of tiddlywinks, two or more players stack POG caps face up and take turns using a heavier POG, called a slammer, to attack the stack. The object is to flip over the greatest number of caps.
"We learned the ones you flip over you get to keep. It goes back to a form of gambling," said Dr. Gerald E. Scarborough, principal of North Harford Middle School. "I don't want children to come to school with 50 POGs and go home and say they lost them in school."
POGs can cost from 10 cents to 25 cents apiece and are available at various video and hobby stores. The slammers range from about $2 for a plastic model to $10 for a metal one. There are also POG game boards and plastic POG holders called "coffins."
"It's out of control," said Jen Ayres, a Harford Community College student who works part-time at Video Plus in the Festival at Bel Air. She said weekday shipments of POGs are often gone over the weekend.
POGs "are not regarded as appropriate in school," said Dr. Rachael R. Reid, principal of Deerfield. "They were disruptive in the cafeteria."
Dr. Reid said the children, mostly fifth-graders, would sometimes yell during a POG game or get on tables to make a shot. "The best course of action was to ask them [the students] not to bring them to school," she said. "We took a low-key approach."
Ironically, the game's popularity got a boost from Hawaiian schoolteacher Blossom Galbiso, who introduced the game in 1991 to her students to teach them to count. The craze spread quickly throughout Hawaii before crossing the Pacific. It hit the .. East Coast last summer.
"It started out as a friendly little game the kids were playing," said F. Thomas Pomilla, principal of Fallston Middle School. "We got into a situation where children were betting on the POGs, 10 cents a POG. . . . Then somebody put dirty pictures on them.
"It was going bonkers. They were playing in the homerooms, in the cafeteria. Then we had some kids stealing POGs. That's when I said, 'No more POGs.' "
Mr. Pomilla said there have been no problems since he asked the children to leave their POGs at home.
Dr. Scarborough said there also are restrictions against bringing other collectible items, such as baseball cards, to school. He said that POGs are considered to be a type of toy, which also aren't allowed in school.