IHSAA should require softball facemasks

The blink of an eye.

That’s how long it took for one of the scariest moments I’ve seen in person to happen.

It was in the fifth inning of last Saturday’s Madison County softball championship game between Pendleton Heights and Madison-Grant. Argyll pitcher Maddi Evans was locked in a pitchers’ duel with Arabian Audrey Ricker. Trailing 1-0, Evans threw the first pitch of the inning to Mickala Winans, who did what she is supposed to do and hit the ball.

Less than half a second later, Evans was in a heap on the mound.

The ball came off the bat of Winans at approximately 75 miles per hour and hit Evans in the cheek. Almost instinctually, Evans had the wherewithal to find the ball and throw Winans out at first before she collapsed in tears.

At 75 miles per hour, Evans, who is a far above average athlete, had less than .4 seconds to react. The average duration of an eye blink is .1 to .4 seconds.

So, if Evans blinked as Winans swung the bat, she never saw the ball coming.

Evans was not wearing a face mask, something she says she did before she started pitching in high school. Now a junior, she said this incident has changed her opinion on wearing them.

What baffles me is that she has a choice. It is up to the player to decide whether or not to wear the facemask when pitching or playing third base, though the player in the latter position is often even closer to the plate than the pitcher.

The IHSAA does not require facemasks to be worn by softball players. In fact, the cover photo on the softball page of its website is a pitcher, striding toward the plate in mid delivery, not wearing the facial protection.

Lapel sophomore Chloe Bousman is one of several local pitchers who chooses not to wear facial protection.
Lapel sophomore Chloe Bousman is one of several local pitchers who chooses not to wear facial protection.

One other thing to consider here: The rubber may be 43 feet from home plate, but by the time the pitcher releases the ball, she is much closer than that, which reduces that reaction time.

I don’t think a facemask will prevent all injuries. Lapel senior Brooke Daniels, who does wear a facemask when she pitches, said she was struck by a ball several years ago while wearing the protection and still suffers from TMJ, or pain in her jaw joint.

But it could prevent injuries like those suffered by Union County (Kentucky) High School pitcher Evyn Hendrickson earlier this month. She took a line drive to the face, although the coach says it was a glancing blow, and suffered multiple facial fractures and was airlifted to a nearby hospital.

Although she will need at least one surgery, Hendrickson’s college playing career does not seem to be in jeopardy.

But remember, she turned her head a bit and took a glancing blow.

A liner to the face is a fairly rare occurrence, but why isn’t the facemask required? As coaches and players point out, it isn’t just that the players are stronger, but the bats kids use today cost more than $300 and produce greater exit velocity when they make contact.

Some have pointed out the facemask isn’t comfortable for some kids.

Neither is your average football helmet, and those are required so we can pretend they prevent concussions.

This needs to be taken out of the players’ and coaches’ hands. Some parents get it. One told me there is no way her daughter would pitch without a facemask. Another player said her mother makes her wear one. If the IHSAA is serious about the safety of its student-athletes, this really is a no-brainer.

Because I don’t want to see what happened to Maddi happen to any other player. It’s bad enough when I have to report on a shoulder, collarbone, or knee injury.

One story I hope to never write is one about a softball pitcher who suffers a catastrophic, but easily preventable, injury (or worse) on the diamond.

More points to consider: Winans is a good hitter, and Evans is a great athlete.

But there are batters who hit the ball even harder and pitchers who can’t react as quickly, a dangerous combination.

Author photo
Rob Hunt covers news, sports and other happenings in South Madison County. He can be reached at rhunt@pendletontimespost.com or (765) 778-2324.