Mandating protection for girls softball

Should infield players be protected?

Missouri, recently mandated that all high school pitchers wear protective masks during softball games. Kentucky, went as far to mandate that all pitchers, first and third basemen also need to wear protective gear when on the field – so why isn’t Oklahoma taking protection seriously?

Are our young girls at risk?

Injury prevention has come to the spotlight in the last few years and it may be the most critical question parents of players face. What are the best ways to protect girls playing softball? Some boys are opting out of contact sports such as football and rugby, but girls softball is beloved by many. May we have the conversation on injury prevention?

A professional pitcher’s fastball can reach speeds over 70 MPH and reach the plate in 0.35 seconds.

Just because a sport may not involve person on person contact does not mean that protective measures should be ignored. Should Oklahoma step up, set standards and help protect our youth athletes no matter the sport?

Until recently, some sports didn’t even have protection options for their players. Most girls had to search the baseball section to find gear to wear for softball, which caused problems not only because the gear was made to fit boys, but because the gear was made to protect players from the much smaller baseball.

A batter can drive a pitch to speeds of up to 100 MPH.

In the past decade, new brands like RIP-IT have developed gear made specifically for girls available in big box sports stores like Dick’s and Academy – giving girls access to protective gear designed specifically for them.

Pitchers, first and third basemen are the most vulnerable when it comes to facial and head injuries.

Since human brains are not fully developed until the early twenties, it’s important for youth athletes to take preventative measures necessary to protect themselves. After all, it only takes one hit to cause serious facial injury, so why are we letting our youth athletes out on the field without the proper protection?

With up to 40% of sports injuries relating to the face, it’s important to note why softball players are most at risk. The distance between the hitter and pitcher is small, so is the distance between bases – 60 feet for softball compared to the 90 feet for baseball.

Straight hits and or/throws can be dangerous in any sport but especially in softball when players get less time to react. In fast pitch specifically, the ball’s speed can reach up to 70 MPH after a pitch, and up to 100 MPH after it’s hit by the batter, giving the pitcher about .29 seconds and the first and third basemen .44 seconds to react.

In the end, parents have to choose if they want to spend $40 — $50 on masks to protect their girls on the field or risk injury and pay for potential medical and hospital bills. Some companies like RIP-IT even offer a peace of mind policy, promising to pay for medical costs if your child is hurt while wearing their protective gear.

Off season is the time for regulation considerations.  Now, before season begins we must analyze risk and consider young lives dependent upon determinations by officials.  Adults must weigh the risks.

Even with protective gear designed for girls playing softball, the uptick in head and facial injuries is troubling.

Is it because state regulators have failed to implement known protections?  What responsibility lies with which organization? Only two out of 50 states have made it mandatory for players to wear protective masks when on the field – that is, apparently, not enough.  Must the courts decide?

Does Oklahoma need to step up and take leadership with our neighbors to protect our athletes. Tulsa Today has asked the best softball coach in America and we await her response with plans to update this story.

Regardless, it is time to start the conversation before another young face must be surgically rebuilt.

Over a week ago, Tulsa Today asked OU Softball Coach Patty Gasso by email why Oklahoma does not mandate protective masks. Gasso has been the head softball coach at the University of Oklahoma since 1995. She molded the program into a national power, permanently placed herself among elite softball coaches in the country and is inducted into the NFCA Hall of Fame. She holds softball camps for young girls, but has not yet responded.

This story will be updated when Coach Gasso responds.  Safety questions are too important to let slide. As we await Coach Gasso’s response, we welcome other coaches and parents to reply below or by email to editor@tulsatoday.com.

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