Injury Sparks Facemask Discussion

April 20, 2017

At Union County (Ky.) High School, senior pitcher Evyn Hendrickson was hit in the face by a line drive, which required her to go to the hospital. The injury has led to coaches and officials discussing the mandatory wearing of facemasks for pitchers and infielders.

The NFHS does not require softball players to wear the mask, but some coaches are taking matters into their own hands. According to an article from 14 News by Reporter Shaelie Clark, Apollo (Ky.) High School Head Softball Coach Stephen Julian is requiring all of his pitchers to wear a mask. Many other players on his team already wear the equipment.

"It's not doubting their skill level or anything like that,” said Julian. “It's just an extra element of precaution in case they can't react to that certain ball hit right back at them. You know, potentially keep them safe.”

Some other coaches across the country are doing the same. As reported in the Williamson Herald , Erica Powell has been coaching softball at Brentwood (Tenn.) High School for 14 years. After hearing multiple stories of pitchers being badly injured, she decided this year to begin requiring her pitchers to wear a mask. She also encourages her infielders to do the same.

Powell saw the positive impact of this action early in the team’s season. On the second day of implementing the facemask requirement, the Lady Bruins were having a live batting practice when junior Kayla Mills was hit in the face.

“The ball was hit hard enough to slide her face mask to the side. She stood there stunned for a second, and I (and most of her teammates) ran out to check on her," said Powell. "I took her mask off and walked her off the field and called the trainer. When he got there he looked at her face and said, ‘Thank God you had that mask on. That ball would have broken your face.'”

A problem with mandating facemasks is that there is not one that has been certified, as explained in an article for the Columbia Daily Tribune. That is one reason that both the NFHS and NCAA have not enacted a rule regarding the safety equipment. 

“There’s no rule against wearing the facemask, but we just can’t demand it, because there isn’t anything that’s certified on the market at this point in time,” said the NCAA’s Softball Secretary-Rules Editor, Vickie Van Kleeck. “We can’t endorse a particular facemask, because it doesn’t have any guarantees behind it.”

The facemask is also surrounded by negative feelings for many softball players. Some don’t like the way they look and feel, while others think that it detracts from their intimidation factor. And without certification, there is no telling that the effects of the facemask will always be positive.

“Right now, I don’t have any assurance that the mask would not do more harm than good,” said former NCAA Softball Secretary-Rules Editor Dee Abrahamson said. “I wouldn’t encourage it.”

People on both sides of the argument have strong opinions on whether facemasks should be mandatory or not.

“The people who really want it or think it should be mandated are really emotional about it, because they’ve either been injured, or they’ve seen an injury, or they have a fear factor, or they just think it’s the best practice,” said Carol Bruggerman, Executive Director of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. “They think our sport is too dangerous, so to speak, to not do that. Then on the other side of the spectrum, you have these emotional people, emotional coaches, emotional players, who are saying, ‘I don’t ever want to wear that. It’s going to hinder my sight. I don’t think our game is that dangerous.’”

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