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Kentucky Is First State To Require Face Protection In High School Softball

High School Athletic Association

Evyn Hendrickson didn’t plan to go to her Union County High School prom with what she calls a broken face. But an injury just a week before changed all of that.

During a softball game, a line drive hit the 18-year-old in the face giving her a tripod fracture. She had to be airlifted to a hospital in Evansville.

“My cheekbone was completely pushed back into my face,” Hendrickson says. “It broke my orbital bone, my cheekbone connected to my jaw and it broke a little bit of the side of my nose.”

She says she's doing well now. Hendrickson’s been playing since sixth grade and this was her first softball injury. But it wasn’t the only softball injury in Kentucky so far this year.

“A few weeks before that happened to me, two girls in my region were wearing face masks,” she recalls. “And they got hit in the face. And that face mask prevented them from having anything broken but they still had bruises."

Incidents such as these have led the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to mandate that pitchers, first basemen and third basemen on its member softball teams wear protective gear.

And Kentucky is the first state to implement such a rule.

“The decision was made for the health and safety of our student athletes,” says Darren Bilberry, assistant commissioner of KHSAA.  

According to data from the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study of 2015 - 2016, 22 percent of overall high school softball injuries were to the head and face.

The required protective wear, however, does not extend to high school baseball players

“It’s not a situation where if you do it for this sport you’ve gotta do it for the sport that’s somewhat similar for the boys,” he says.  If the data shows one thing in softball but doesn’t show another in baseball, you wouldn’t make that decision because the sports are somewhat similar.”

The KHSAA says it doesn’t have a formal system of tracking injuries or a database of injuries. And nationally high schoolers aren’t required to wear headgear. But it’s been reported locally that parents of softball players have supported the KHSAA to make the ruling for required head gear.

As for Evyn Hendrickson, she’ll continue to play softball as a student at Kentucky Wesleyan College. For some softball players, face masks are seen as an inconvenience. She’s also heard the sentiment from old-school players is to toughen up.

“They think getting hurt is part of the game,” she says.

But Hendrickson says the game is a lot different now.

"You can be just as good with a face mask on," she says.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.

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