A freak accident in a tug-of-war has almost torn off a school principal's finger.

St Dominic's Primary School in Blockhouse Bay has decided to stop holding tug-of-wars at its annual school picnics after its principal Daniel Pepper almost lost his left little finger in a men vs women tug-of-war on Friday night.

Pepper is still in Middlemore Hospital recovering from surgery to restore his finger.

Board chairman Damion Kaukau said parents attending the family whānau picnic on the school's playing fields were shocked by what happened.

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"The surgeons said this was a freak occurrence. We have never heard of this ever happening," he said.

The school has held the "mums vs dads tug-of-war" at the annual picnic for the past eight years and a Facebook invitation to this year's event described it as "the highlight of the evening".

"Not to be missed and highly contested each year! (Dads have won 3 years in a row from memory..." it said.

Kaukau said the turnout this year was higher than usual and "at least 100" mums and dads lined up for the tug-of-war.

"Unfortunately the rope parted, and unfortunately Daniel injured his finger," he said.

"From my understanding he just lost some skin and some flesh off his finger. He had to get it operated on to put it back together."

Kaukau said Pepper was at the front of the fathers' group closest to where the rope snapped, and fell to the ground with several other fathers.

St Dominic's principal Daniel Pepper was rushed to hospital by ambulance after the tug-of-war accident. Photo / Supplied
St Dominic's principal Daniel Pepper was rushed to hospital by ambulance after the tug-of-war accident. Photo / Supplied

Pepper was rushed to hospital by ambulance. Two other fathers went to an accident and emergency clinic and had to take a day off work on Saturday.

"The women were okay, it was just the men," Kaukau said. "Maybe the women have been going to the gym a bit more than the men have."

He said the rope was very thick.

"It's not like your normal rope, this is a large rope that you would see on a sailing ship, something of that character," he said.

Pepper has led the school since 2010 after five years as principal of Pompallier School in Kaitaia, and has developed close relationships with the families of most of the school's 256 children. A post on the Friends of St Dominic's Catholic School Facebook page said: "I know you are all concerned and we will hear an update when possible."

Thank you to everyone who came to the family picnic. Thanks also for the concern showed and for helping to clear the...

Posted by Friends of St Dominic's Catholic Primary School on Friday, 15 February 2019

"It would cause a shock with some of the parents because everybody really appreciates our principal," Kaukau said.

"With our Catholic flavour we try and help each other. Some of the parents were trying to do their best in that situation. We had our first aid kits ready and available. We called the ambulance which took Daniel to hospital."

Pepper is off work for at least a week.

"The hospital says he can return to work next week and do half-days," Kaukau said.

St Dominic's School principal Daniel Pepper, portrayed here by a student Breanna, almost lost his little finger in a freak tug-of-war accident. Photo / School website
St Dominic's School principal Daniel Pepper, portrayed here by a student Breanna, almost lost his little finger in a freak tug-of-war accident. Photo / School website

The board has reported the accident to Worksafe and has decided not to hold the tug-of-war again.

"I think it's prudent to remove the tug-of-war. We don't want any future injuries," Kaukau said.

Leandro Piantelli, principal of Swanson School which famously allows its children to climb trees and play freely, said the St Dominic's board was being too cautious.

"It doesn't seem to me like one thing that happened in one tug-of-war is a good enough excuse to stop having tug-of-wars altogether. You can have freak accidents doing anything," he said.

"How many things are you going to call off to stop kids from doing because there could be an accident? They could be running around playing basketball and fall and hit their head on the concrete - are you going to stop kids playing basketball?"

But Kaukau said safety was a big issue.

"So unless we start measuring how much pressure our rope can take, we won't be doing it again."