Blaze a trail: Memorial event spreading awareness about “the choking game”

Shane Arnott and Devin Carlson hope the 2013 Connor Arnott Memorial Blaze a Trail Project will continue to spread awareness about the choking game that claimed Connor Arnott in 2010 when he was 14 years old. Carlson took the lead in putting together a golf scramble to both honor his friend and remind people of the dangerous behavior as part of his senior high school project.

Perry Backus - Ravalli Republic

STEVENSVILLE – “We want to turn our negative into something positive.”

Three years have passed since the day when Shane Arnott’s family was turned upside down after their 14-year-old son accidently killed himself while experimenting with the dangerous behavior commonly called “the choking game.”

Last year, more than 80 people came to Bass Creek to celebrate their son’s life in the first annual Connor Arnott Memorial Blaze a Trail Project.

That day included a chili feed and trail maintenance. More importantly, it offered people a chance to talk frankly about a subject that most people would just as soon avoid.

“Most people don’t even know what it is,” Arnott said. “But too many kids know. There are over 30,000 videos on how to play the game uploaded every year on You Tube. It’s scary.”

“Parents need to be aware,” he said.

One of those who knew nothing about the dangerous practice was Connor’s best friend, Devin Carlson.

Carlson and Arnott became close friends while attending school at Lone Rock. They hiked and biked together. They camped out in their backyards.

They talked about almost everything.

But the topic of the choking game was not something they shared.

Generations of young people have experimented with depriving their brains of oxygen to the point of unconsciousness for the sense of euphoria that follows when the pressure is released and oxygen and blood race back into the brain.

The practice is dangerous enough when kids try it together. When a person is alone, without anyone there to release the pressure, the result can be fatal.

The last time Carlson saw his friend was the night of their first homecoming game as freshmen at Stevensville High School.

“It was all so sudden,” Carlson remembered. “And so sad. It took some time to actually realize and completely understand that it had happened.”

Carlson is a senior this year.

His school requires all seniors to come up with a project that can benefit the community.

It didn’t take him long to decide that his senior project would both honor his friend and continue to spread an awareness in his community about this dangerous behavior that so many know so little about.

The 2013 Connor Arnott Memorial Blaze a Trail project will feature a golf scramble and barbecue at the Whitetail Golf Course on Oct. 5.

Carlson’s senior project primarily aims to raise funds for the Connor Arnott Memorial Scholarship at the University of Montana-Western. Some of the proceeds will also support the Stevensville High School golf team.

As of Friday, there was still room for a few additional golfers for the event.

Carlson hopes for 12 teams of four people. Entry fee is $80 per team, which pays for golfing, a T-shirt, food and water. Registration is at 11 a.m., with the tournament starting at noon.

People can find additional information on Facebook at the Connor Arnott Memorial – Blaze a Trail Project. To register for the tournament, call 777-0558 or 370-4486.

Connor Arnott was a member of the freshman golf team.

“I want to be able to preserve his memory through this tournament,” Carlson said. “We have quite a few volunteers who have stepped forward to help. It’s sizing up to be a sizeable event right now.”

Since telling their story for the first time publicly last year, Arnott said his family has heard from people all across the country who have experienced a similar loss.

“Thank goodness that there have been no recorded incidences since Connor died here in Montana,” Arnott said. “Nationwide, an average of one child a month is dying from this game. Parents need to know about it.”

Before Connor’s death, the Arnotts had never heard of such a thing.

“The kids who tend to try this tend to be low risk for drugs and alcohol,” Arnott said. “Most parents wouldn’t even consider that they would ever try something like this.”

There can be warning signs, like bloodshot eyes or marks around their necks.

“In Connor’s case, we saw none of them,” Arnott said. “If he hadn’t confided in his sister, we would still be wondering what happened. He didn’t even confide in his best friend.”

Oct. 11 has been set aside worldwide as the choking game awareness day.

“As a group, we’ve tried to come up with another name for it,” Arnott said. “It’s not a game. Our kids need to know that. They need to know that it can be deadly.”

Reach reporter Perry Backus at 363-3300 or pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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