LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ)- School may be out for summer, but educators are already preparing for students’ return. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association announced Tuesday the Bluegrass State will be the first in the country to require softball players to wear protective face masks.
Starting this coming season, pitchers, first basemen, and third basemen will be required to wear protective gear. One Kentucky mom and softball coach says it is a change that has been a long time coming.
Courtney Pettit says she has coached softball since her now 12-year-old daughter was seven. On her team, face masks are not optional.
“Anytime I see a pitcher take the mound without a mask, my heart sinks. It’s the “what if”. What if that ball comes right back at her face?” Pettit said.
She says players are a lot closer than in baseball. Plus, new bats have changed the game.
“They’re composite bats. The ball just flies off the bat,” Pettit said.
Pitcher Claire Cronan says a ball once hit her right in her mask.
“You hear the stories about the girls that get their teeth knocked out, break their nose,” Cronan said.
“A girl at East Jessamine was hit…had a plate put in her face. It’s just absolutely….it’s terrifying,” Pettit said.
In Lexington, at KHSAA headquarters, Assistant Commissioner Darren Bilberry says some of those stories motivated the change.
“This is something we’ve been advocating for the past several years,” Bilberry explained.
Since 2014 the association has recommended face masks, but several schools did not require it, like Henry Clay in Lexington.
Back on the diamond, Pettit’s co-coach is also the Devil’s assistant coach. He says his team has always encouraged players to wear what makes them feel safe. Now, he welcomes the rule change.
Pettit says above all, safety has to be most important
“It could destroy a girl’s life. We haven’t had a player get killed yet. We don’t need to wait until that happens,” Pettit said.
As for middle schoolers, the KHSAA says it will recommend the same rule go into effect.