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USA Softball: 2017 Code & Playing Rule Changes with comments are available

Get ready for the 2017 season of USA Softball! The 2017 Code and Playing Rule Changes with comments are now available online! Submitted by USA Softball Council Members each year, USA Softball Code and Playing Rule changes are determined annually at the USA Softball Annual Meeting. NOTE: All changes are EFFECTIVE January 1, 2017, unless otherwise noted.



'Why We Play': Education-based coaching takes hold in district

An education-based coaching philosophy, "Why We Play," has been promoted by the Minnesota State High School League and is gaining popularity throughout the U.S. and is part of Le Sueur-Henderson coaches' professional development efforts. It's an effort to teach respect, responsibility and preparation for life beyond sports.

When the Giants opened volleyball playoffs Oct. 27 against defending state champion Belle Plaine, players knew it was a tough task. A loss was likely.

Belle Plaine had just three days earlier easily handled Le Sueur-Henderson and the two teams were pitted against one another. And the Tigers did it again, ending the Giants' season.

How did the team handle the loss? Athletes don't like to lose. It's the nature of the game. But so is reality. Eventually, like in life, there is loss.

"Even though our record might not show it, the season was great," reflected Giants co-captain Allison Schwarz. "Volleyball isn't all about games; it's about team bonding and the long practices. It's about growing close to your team and leaning on each other."

And despite the loss, despite a 9-20 season record, despite losing the last eight matches, there was much more to the Giants volleyball efforts than the numbers.

For fellow co-captain Klaire Hudson, being part of a program, developing a "closer bond as a team," and learning along the way.

"The LSH Giants volleyball program will forever be a big part of who I am today, and I can't thank each and every person a part of it enough," she stressed. "These girls all have bright futures ahead of them and I can't wait to continue supporting them and watch them grow not only as a player but as an individual, as well."

It's that personal growth as an individual which advocates of education-based coaching would be smiling about. And it's an emphasis the Minnesota State High School League's "Why We Play" initiative has been promoting throughout the United States.

It's also taking hold at Le Sueur-Henderson.

Developing student-athletes

When cross country and track coach Jeff Christ approached the podium at a fall LS-H School Board meeting, there was purpose in his stride and message. He and five other LS-H coaches had attended the Minnesota State High School League's "Why We Play" forum, advocating an education-based philosophy to coaching.

"The biggest takeaway for all of us was just a reminder of why we decided to coach," Christ told LS-H board members. "All of us went to school to be teachers. That's our first choice, that element of working with kids as educators."

And for Christ and the others who attended the "Why We Play" professional development training – Eric and Anne Lewis, Becky Straub, Mike May and Tom Quiram – dealing with student-athletes is an extension of their classroom teaching.

"That word of play has been lost a lot in our culture of athletics," said Christ. "We have to keep that word play in our vocabulary."

 Specialization by student-athletes has contributed to the challenges of coaches, much different than the high school sports scene of past generations. And it's often driven by parents, who may see a collegiate sports career for their children. But MSHSL officials say some 97 percent of student-athletes stop their competitive sports careers in high school.

"It's not the kids that are doing it," Christ said of this drive toward specialization. "It's the parents."

Christ believes it's not just the coaching staffs at LS-H who need to embrace the "Why We Play" philosophy and watch the video, "To me, this is something everybody should see."

Good stuff

"I think it's something all schools should be embracing," says LS-H School Board Chair Andrea Faches.

However, implementing such a philosophy and mindset might take time, she admits. And at the board meeting during which coaches talked about the "Why We Play" concept, Faches challenged those who presented to mentor their staffs.

"I felt like this was a really good start," Faches told coaches and LS-H Activities Director Dave Swanberg. "I would ask you to build on these. I really want us, to see us, push our coaches."

Faches emphasized that that the "Why We Play" philosophy places players first, then team, then coaches.

"Nurture them, so they know how to respond to adversity," she added.

MSHSL officials have taken a firm lead in the "Why We Play" concept and mission of spreading the philosophy of education-based coaching.

"Athletics and activities are the reason why kids show up," says Jody Redman, MSHSL associate director. "It's the reason they do well on the ACTs and SATs and the reason they are in attendance. It's the glue that connects them to their school."

Redmond says it's important to look past simply winning every game. Instead, she advocates, coaches need to define a purpose and develop a set of goals for their teams.

"I like to win, but it's not our purpose," says Redman. "Our purpose is education. It's human growth and development of the inner lives of kids. When they graduate from high school, 97 percent of kids have a terminal experience (with sports). They will never play organized sports to the level or degree that they play now, in high school, again. So what are we giving them if we are only centered on physical skill development and goals?"

Redman also advocates the MSHSL mission with book discussion of "InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives" by Joe Erhmann, which the state league started promoting about four years ago.

"We've had a tremendous growth and support for being intentional and purposeful in education-based athletics," said Redman. "People are hungry. They're looking for solutions because the culture is broken."

Coaches respond

Christ is emphatic about his LS-H coaching brothers and sisters, how dedicated they are and committed to this education-based concept.

"Is it perfect? No. But from my experience, it's the best place I've ever been," says Christ of his LS-H position. "I love coaching with these guys. We're all Giants."

Eric Lewis, who last spring wrapped up 17 years with the Giants softball program to accept an assistant coaching position at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, agreed with Christ that the "Why We Play" philosophical approach is a good one and provides reinforcement.

"To me, it was just reassuring," he said, "that what we're doing isn't just about the game."

Mike May, LS-H football and wrestling coach and a physical education instructor at St. Anne's Catholic Church School, said the "Why We Play" concept challenges him to do better, to be a better mentor to his student-athletes.

"Why are the kids there?" May says he asks himself. "Taking that (thought), what can I teach these kids? Hey, we can approach this in a different way. We're trying to push them to do something greater."

Veteran LS-H coach Tom Quiram is sold on the concept. He believes in a philosophy that advocates for student-athletes to be trustworthy, responsible and show respect.

"We're in it to get more out of the kids," said Quiram, not just on the sports field. "I'm often asked, 'How's your team going to be?' I'll tell you in 20 years."

Source: Le Sueur News-Herald


Dundas Dome gets off the ground

The much anticipated opening of the Dundas Sports Dome began this week with the facility getting inflated Thursday afternoon.

Construction delays pushed back the original target opening of Nov. 1, but this week the dome finally got off the ground.

The 90,000-square-foot facility can accommodate two NCAA regulation softball games at the same time, and will be open from Nov. 1 to April 30. The dome can be configured for three practice soccer fields or one full soccer or lacrosse field. It will also include space for batting cages, and will become an outdoor turf field in the summer months.

"It's nice to see the dream become a reality," said Sherry Foster, who, along with her family, partnered with the Whiteman family to build the dome. "I'm excited to have this space for our community and youth."

Lacrosse and soccer leagues are already planned for November and Carleton College has bought time for softball games next spring, said Dome Manager Jason Obarski.

The dome is 420 feet long, 215 feet wide and 75 feet tall. It's hard to miss from Hwy. 3, and once inside, it becomes tougher to judge the enormity of the facility. A large translucent skylight allows plenty of light through, but additional lighting will go up in the coming days.

The project came about from a combination of the work from the Foster and Whiteman family -- neighbors who shared a desire to provide the community with a space for games or practices.

"I'm excited and I can't wait for it to be up and running," Paul Whiteman said. "We've been lucky to get this far with the weather."

The Fosters and Whitemans found out that they won't have trouble filling the space, as demand for the space in the winter is high, especially from surrounding communities and nearby colleges.

Softball, soccer and lacrosse leagues are soon to sprout up at the facility, along with the batting cages.

Northfield Public Schools District will rent space at the Dundas Dome in the spring, allowing more flexibility for coaches on scheduling practices, thus reducing the competition for gym space in the spring when the weather can force teams to practice indoors.

Source: Northfield News


Think you can hit a 'dinger' off Winhawks all-state softball pitcher Ashton Hoeppner? Don't bet on it

Let this serve as a warning to all guys out there. If you think you can get a hit off Winona Senior High School all-state softball pitcher Ashton Hoeppner, you probably can't. And you'll be embarrassed on social media.

Logan Smith found that out the hard way recently. Smith, also a WSHS student and a standout on the state tournament-bound football team, teased his good friend Hoeppner that "softball is easy" and "I'd hit a dinger off you, first pitch."

Yeah, not exactly.

Smith, who has a school-record seven interceptions on the football field, said he could best Hoeppner on the softball diamond, and recently bet her $20 that he could hit a home run off her in one at bat.

 "He said softball is easy, and (catcher) Justine (Schultz) and I wanted to prove him wrong," Hoeppner said in a message.

He managed to work the count full -  he seemed to freeze on a pitch that was a few inches inside - then swung and missed at a high fastball.

Womp womp.

Hoeppner posted video of the battle on Twitter on Sunday night. As of Monday, it had 145 likes.

Smith did get a few more at bats, and he eventually lined a solid hit to left field.

 "He ended up hitting a few grounders after a while," Hoeppner said, "but he did not hit any home runs."

Hoeppner, who also plays volleyball and hockey for the Winhawks, is a three-time all-conference selection and was named all-state after leading Winona to a runner-up finish in the Class AAA state tournament. Smith and the sixth-ranked Winhawks football team play top-ranked South St. Paul at 7 p.m. Friday in Woodbury, Minn., in the state semifinals.

Source: Winona Daily News


10 Ways to Raise Brave Girls

 Bestselling author Caroline Paul's new book, 'The Gutsy Girl,' is a how-to guide for parents to push through the anxiety and let their kids take acceptable risks outdoors

The other day my seven-year-old daughter, Pippa, and I rode the flow trail at our local mountain bike park. We'd heard it was smooth and gentle enough for kids and she was desperate to try it, so even though it was her first day on a fat bike, and the sign at the top read "Technical Trail: Advanced Riders Only," I said yes. Before we started, I coached her on the basics of downhill mountain biking: keep your weight back, your pedals level, and feather the brakes. Then she pushed off, shrieking with glee as she rolled over the first loamy whoop-de-woo.

I rode behind Pippa, watching her handle her bike with confidence, control, and joy. If there's any sweeter sound than a little girl oohing and ahhing as she banks through turns and up and over dusty berms, I don't know what it is. Still there were moments when I had to bite my tongue and resist the urge to scream Careful! or Slow Down!, half expecting to come around a corner and find her endo-ed in the dirt. The desire to protect our children from harm is innate and reflexive and, at times, all-consuming. As I like to joke to my husband, mothers' worry is what keeps the human race alive. But too much can be limiting and, especially for girls, potentially detrimental to their development.

A few days earlier I'd spoken by phone with Caroline Paul, whose op-ed in the New York Times Sunday Review last month, "Why Do We Teach Girls That It's Cute to be Scared?" went viral. Paul is the author of the bestselling new book The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, which is part high-energy how-to guide, part hilarious memoir, and part interactive adventure journal designed to help girls of all ages build confidence, pluck, and bravery by venturing outside.

Paul, 52, was one of the first female firefighters in San Francisco in 1989. One of the first things she tells me during a phone call is that most parents, often without realizing it, treat girls differently than boys. "Even the most progressive, open-minded parents caution them more, saying, Be careful. Oh, no you shouldn't. Or, Watch out!" she says. "There's a sense that our daughters need more protection than sons, which is ironic, because before age 11, girls are ahead of boys physically and emotionally. My twin sister and I could beat every boy in class until seventh grade. Until then, we were the same as boys. And we break the same as boys."

It's never too early--or late--to raise girls to be fearless and adventuresome. "I want to gird girls with life lessons of bravery and resilience before puberty, before the real pressures kick in: to be liked at all costs, to look pretty, to be perfect," says Paul, whose own madcap childhood escapades included trying to set the Guinness World Record for crawling when she was 13 years old. (The distance to beat was 12 miles; nearly hypothermic, she quit at mile eight.) "Going outdoors gives you confidence and self-esteem to handle the teenage years, and it carries into womanhood, too," Paul says. "Nature doesn't care what you look like or if you're popular or nice. What it cares about is if you're a good team player." The most awesome part of the awesome message of Gutsy Girl? "Bravery is learned," Paul says. Build it into our girls' hearts, brains and bodies now and we'll raise a new generation of badass female forces. Here are ten ways to teach our girls and ourselves.

  1.  Adjust Your Attitude

    My two girls have been game and outgoing from the get-go, but I knew I might be unwittingly sending mixed messages about fearfulness and danger, so I inventoried my recent behavior for signs of gender bias: Would I have encouraged my daughters to hit ski jumps faster and launch higher if they were sons? Doubtful. I have no problem shouting at their ski buddies, who are boys, to slow down if I think they're out of control (yeah, I'm that mom). If they had Y chromosomes would I let them play unsupervised in the sandy arroyo near our house, collecting iron with little magnets, without checking to make sure they were safe from strangers every ten minutes? Possibly. Take stock of your own prejudices in different scenarios and ask yourself honestly if, now, knowing what you do about girls' capabilities, you really need to hover so closely while she hauls off across the monkey bars. Would you do the same with your son?

  2.  Talk About Fear

    "Emotions are complicated," explains Paul, "and as girls, we are acculturated very early to fear. But here's the thing: the rush of fear feels a lot like excitement. Sometimes they're just feeling exhilarated when they're faced with a steep hill on their bike. Girls need tools to understand the emotions as they grow up." We should encourage girls to go outside their comfort zone, Paul says. "When they are scared, say 'OK, you're scared. What else are you feeling?' Then let them name their feelings: excitement, confidence, et cetra. Talk to them about their skill level so they can put fear in its place and go forward. I really think that if you give them guidance, fear won't stop them."

  3. Practice Bravery

    As Eleanor Roosevelt once famously said, "Do something every day that scares you." Give equal or greater air time to bravery. "Bravery is an emotion that's unfamiliar for girls. It's considered the purview of boys and men," says Paul. "No one questions a mother's courage to protect her kids, but it's so odd that we don't attribute bravery to women otherwise. At a young age, if girls learn to value bravery like boys do, they're going to be so good at it." Paul suggests encouraging your girl to practice five acts of "microbravery" each week, like picking up that icky spider on the kitchen counter. And when your daughter does something gutsy, name that too. Repeat after me: "that was brave!"

  4. Break It Down

    If your girl has a goal that intimidates her--like climbing a tree when she's scared of heights--show her how to break it down into smaller steps. "A lot of girls are focused on perfection," says Paul. "It's that all or nothing thing. But you don't have to be perfect." If you get to the top of a steep hill on your bikes and your daughter balks, stop for a moment to ask her, "What do you think we should do about this?" Break it down into shorter, more approachable chunks and pretty soon she'll be flying down the hill from top to bottom in one go. "Feeling scared is good," says Paul. "After all, the bravest person is the one who feels afraid and does it anyway."

  5. Find Role Models

    "I actually grew up very shy and kind of a scaredy cat," Paul says. "I read a lot. Which is where I got a lot of my role models. Most of them were men, like explorer Ned Gillette." Ditch the princess phase by pointing your girls to books with strong female characters, so they can identify their own role models. The pages of Gutsy Girl are filled Girl Heroes, including teen rock climber Brooke Raboutou and round-the-world explorer Nellie Bly. Says Paul, "I rarely talk about them being the best women. They are the best in the world."

  6. Give Them a Long Leash

    When Paul was 13, she read a story about building a milk carton boat in National Geographic--and then spent months making her own. She never would have collected enough cartons if she was bouncing from piano lessons to soccer to gymnastics every day after school, like so many schoolchildren these days. "You have to give kids free time to dream up and do their own adventures," she says. This starts with letting them out the door on their own, an increasingly controversial parenting move of late. "I don't think we're protecting kids when don't let them go outside on their own. We're simply putting a bubble on them until they rebel. And then when they do, they have very little of the expertise we should have been giving them. It's about giving them the right information so they can make good decisions."

  7. But Not So Long...

    As a child and young adult growing up with her twin sister in rural Connecticut, Paul was constantly hatching crazy new adventures. Sometimes a little too crazy. Once she got sucked into a thunderhead while paragliding in Brazil; another time she nearly lost a partner in a crevasse on Denali."I learned that being reckless is not being an adventurer," she says. "It's being stupid. Being an adventurer is all about assessing risk and understanding your own comfort zone." Teach your girls to be aware of the inherent risks in their sports, clear-eyed about their own skills, and humble in the face of natural forces greater than themselves. Then you can back off and really let them rip.

  8. Stick It Out

    To be truly gutsy, girls don't have to be the best. They just have be determined. "I'm not being coy when I say that I'm not that highly skilled," says Paul. "But what my sister and I are is super dogged. We have a belief if you are motivated enough, you can actually do it. Girls often think you're born with a talent or you're not, and if you're not, you better not try it. But that was never something we thought." Instead, they got savvy and came up with two guiding strategies in life: "One, find a niche where nobody else is,"--case in point, Paul's brief stint on the U.S.A. National Luge Team--"and two, be determined."

  9. Failing Is Cool, Too

    Paul bailed on her world record crawling attempt, but it's still the raddest, most inspiring story in her book. Not because she and a friend dragged themselves for eight miles along her high school track while the boys' lacrosse team jogged by ("To say that we were embarrassed does not come close to describing the mortification we felt.") But because at age 13, she came up with the hair-brained idea and was intrepid enough to try. "Failure is having a resurgence," Paul says. "It's inevitable and a way of moving forward." She writes, "Anne and I had failed but we had also dreamed big, which is much better than dreaming small and succeeding. Setting a world record is magnificent. But you know what? Failing to set one is pretty impressive, too."

  10. Let the Boys in on It, Too

    Finally, don't discriminate. "Boys should read this book, too," says Paul. "They'll like it because it's about adventure. And they need to see that girls are kick-ass."

Source: Outside Magazine


Helping your athlete kids recover from injury the right way

Early this summer, during her first week of preseason high school basketball practice, my oldest daughter broke the middle finger on her left hand. The fracture marked the end of seven sports-injury-free months for our family, a record. As a mom, I took comfort in knowing that there was nothing I could have done to prevent my kid from jamming her finger on a rebound, other than forbidding her to play. That felt like progress.

Didi, 15, along with her sister, 13, and brother, 14, have been involved in organized sports since kindergarten and racked up scores of injuries along the way. Black eyes and pinched nerves. Sprained ankles and pulled groins. Bruised bones and swollen joints. A dislocated shoulder. A torn eyelid. A torn ACL. At least one diagnosed concussion, though I suspect others were missed. For my husband and me, parenting three young athletes has served as a literal crash course in injury management and recovery.

According to a 2014 ESPN sports poll, more than 87 percent percent of parents worry about their child getting hurt while playing sports. My husband and I aren't sporty people. My three seasons of youth softball passed injury-free, probably because I spent 75 percent of my time on the bench. John's short Little League career proved equally safe and lackluster. We adopted our children, and while we've done our best to nurture their inherent physical talents, we didn't have personal experience to draw upon. That explains why, in the beginning, I didn't even know enough about the risks of youth sports to be nervous. I anticipated nothing more than the normal bumps and scrapes of an active childhood.

My perception started to shift when Didi was about 11 and she got hit in the face with the ball at soccer practice. The trainer (a former Division I player whom I later learned wasn't certified in sports medicine) didn't do much more than tell my daughter to stop crying. The next day Didi had two black eyes.

We moved to a new city not long after that, and our kids joined a well-organized soccer club. But after only a couple of months with her team, Didi dislocated her shoulder during her physical education class. She'd just turned 12, and the injury kept her off the pitch for five months. She attended physical therapy as the ER doctor advised, and I hired an older soccer player to give her some additional workouts before she returned to game play. But in hindsight, I recognize that I didn't take the steps needed to help her rebuild her overall fitness. When Didi was ready to begin practice again, she was rusty, and her coach wasn't happy.

I recently spoke with Craig Bennett, director of sports medicine at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, and president of the Washington Athletic Trainers Association. He told me that one difference between youth and collegiate athletics is that serious college programs offer players a dedicated, knowledgeable sports medicine staff. In youth sports, it's the parents' job to identify qualified health care providers with expertise in both sports injuries and child development. You need to somehow build your own treatment team.

"You need a health care professional who understands that there must be a plan for returning to play," Bennett says. "If you heal and return to play without restrengthening, you are at risk for reinjury."

And that is exactly what happened. At the end of that painful season, Didi's club moved her to the B team for her age group. She handled the demotion with grace, played hard, and within a couple of months was invited to start training with the A team again. Then, during her first practice with her old teammates, she tore an ACL fighting for the ball. She hadn't yet turned 13.

I can't describe the anguish I felt watching my daughter suffer another injury, especially one so serious. This time, though, I networked to find the best doctor, a surgeon who'd repaired ACLs for NFL players and teenage girls. His plan for Didi's return to play involved physical therapy, personal training, and a conservative nine months of recovery.

Didi brought maturity and positivity to the struggle, emerging stronger than before. The physical therapy and athletic training addressed not only her post-surgical weakness, but also the individual quirks of her physiology that had predisposed her to injury, such as overly flexible joints. Today I don't worry about her tearing an ACL again or suffering another shoulder injury. Accidents will continue to happen, just like this summer's broken finger, but at least I have the peace of mind that comes from having educated myself and done all I can to protect her.

I've learned to accept that coaches aren't perfect, even the good ones. Sometimes they aren't qualified to assess a child's injury. And of course, doctors aren't perfect either. Dealing with youth sports injuries is complicated, and an otherwise excellent pediatrician likely will have no training in sports medicine at all.

"More specialized care immediately after a sports injury can help prevent lifelong problems," says Dr. Steven Anderson, founder of Seattle Pediatric Sports Medicine, an organization of medical professionals dedicated to education, collaboration and research in pediatric sports medicine. But "you will never have enough specialists." He and his colleagues are working to grow the organization's website as an educational resource for coaches, parents and doctors who might not otherwise have access to the latest information.

I feel lucky to have Dr. Anderson on my family's "treatment team." The certified athletic trainer who helped Didi after surgery now trains all three of my kids to help stave off injury. The kids grumble a little about the extra work, but just yesterday the trainer warned my son and me to monitor his foot for a possible stress fracture. I see the cost of her sessions as an investment.

People ask me why I don't pull my kids out of sports after all they've been through, but the answer is simple: They are athletes. To ask them not to compete would be like asking them to change who they are. So, I'm trying my best to be the mother they need, and I'm learning that a big part of that is teaching them how to heal.

Source: ESPN


MHSAA releases study of head injuries in Michigan schools

The Michigan High School Athletic Association's study of head-injury reports from the state's member schools during the 2015-16 year unveiled some surprising statistics. Executive director Jack Roberts released results of the MHSAA's first head-injury survey of more than 750 high schools. It received data from nearly every school.

Schools were required to designate if potential concussions occurred during competition or practice and at which level -- varsity, junior varsity or freshman, and the survey includes baseline testing of athletes in football and other sports to help with concussion diagnosis.

Michigan schools reported 4,452 head injuries in boys and girls sports, or 5.9 per school. Contact sports had the most head injuries. Ranking first was 11-player football with 49 head injuries per 1,000 participants, followed by ice hockey with 38 and 8-player football with 34. Girls soccer had 30 injuries per 1,000 participants, and girls basketball ranked fifth with 29 injuries per 1,000.

"Soccer doesn't surprise me at all," said Betty Wroubel, Pontiac Notre Dame athletic director, girls volleyball and softball coach. "Basketball did. A lot of those kids . . . we have a lot more kids hitting the ground than we ever had in basketball for some reason.

"We're just not as strong in our neck, and our head isn't as strong to withstand jarring which is sometimes causing some of those concussions. . . . It's not amazing to me, but it's an educational tool we can use now to help us improve our programs even better."

A startling disparity in the number of reported head injuries suffered by girls and boys playing the same sports was the most significant finding revealed by the report.

Boys soccer players reported only 18 head injuries per 1,000 participants. Boys basketball players reported 11. Softball players reported 11 head injuries per 1,000 participants, while baseball players reported four.

Dr. Jeffery Kutcher, one of the country's leading experts in sports neurology and a board-certified neurologist, said there is some validity to boys' necks being stronger than girls at that age.

"That trend of seeing a higher concussion rate in girls or young women playing sports as compared to boys in the same sports, we see that actually in data across the country," Kutcher said. "We do think there are multiple reasons for that. One of them is likely to be neck strength. There may be others that have to do with style of play and nature of the game and those types of issues."

Health and safety advocates fear concussions often go undetected because of inconsistent protocols at districts unable to spend money for detection. It's often on players to self-report concussions, or on coaches, who have many responsibilities and sometimes little training, to recognize symptoms.

Brian Gordon, athletic director at Novi, was concerned that some of the numbers might be inaccurate because boys might hide injuries to stay on the field.

"I think it's the first year where the MHSAA has required all those head-injury reports, where they started to collect the data," Gordon said. "I think some schools did a really nice job of reporting that data, whereas other schools did not. It does require that we have to do that.

"I think where you see reports of a head injury doesn't mean that guy was concussed. For instance, we had a head-injury report for soccer last week. The kid got stitches. There was no concussion."

Total participation in MHSAA sports for 2015-16 was 284,227 -- with students counted once for each sport he or she played -- and only 1.6% of participants experienced a head injury. Boys experienced 3,003, or 67% of those injuries, although boys participation in sports, especially contact sports, was higher than girls.

More than half of head injuries (54%) were experienced by varsity athletes. A total of 2,973, or 67%, came in competition as opposed to practice. More than half took place during either the middle of practice or middle of competition as opposed to the start or end.

Nearly 56% of injuries were a result of person-to-person contact. The largest percentage of athletes -- 28% -- returned to activity after six to 10 days, while 20% of those who suffered head injuries returned after 11-15 days of rest, according to the report.

"As far as the physical contact of football, I still think we have to continue to teach kids and make sure that they're aware of all the rules and regulations and how we're supposed to tackle and not use the face mask or helmet," said Greg Carter, Oak Park athletic director and football coach.

Reporting for the 2016-17 school year is underway, and Roberts hopes universities, health care systems and the National Federation of State High School Associations will help analyze the data from last year and this year.

Source: USA Today


Mizzou softball pitchers' head injuries put spotlight on safety, facemasks

A terrified Tori Finucane, temporarily deaf and blind, crumpled to the dirt in the pitching circle during an NCAA super regional softball game last May.

She can't remember throwing the pitch, the resulting line drive off the bat of UCLA freshman Kylee Perez, "and probably like 20 seconds after." Nearly a year later, Finucane still hasn't watched a replay, but the scene remains unforgettable for those who did.

Finucane ducked as she raised her glove in self-defense, but standing fewer than 40 feet from Perez's bat, there wasn't enough time to avoid the bright-yellow 12-inch circumference, 6 1/2 -ounce ball. After the ball struck near her left temple, Finucane helplessly waved a shaking right hand in the direction of the Tigers' dugout as she covered her bleeding nose with her other hand, the left side of her head throbbing from a hairline sinus fracture.

"I just ran into the infield," center fielder Taylor Gadbois said. "I was in shock. I think a lot of people were."

The ball missed Finucane's left temple by an inch; doctors say a direct hit might have been fatal.

"The first thing I thought was, 'I hope this doesn't kill her,'" Mizzou coach Ehren Earleywine said. "When it hit her, the sound was just chilling. It was so solid."

It was also a sobering reminder of softball's inherent danger and begged the question why equipment that can protect pitchers' and other defensive players' faces from hard-hit balls isn't required.

Even at a time when there's more awareness about head-injury risks, especially in football and soccer, the NCAA has yet to mandate that pitchers, or other defensive players, wear protective headgear in softball. One of the reasons is that there isn't a national standard on what the protective gear should entail.

But even without a requirement, Finucane is part of a growing trend of softball players, particularly pitchers, who are opting for safety over style and convention.

Growing up, Finucane never considered wearing a defensive facemask -- "It wasn't the norm, and I didn't think about it," she said -- but now she never takes the field without one.

Missouri sophomore Paige Lowary, who replaced Finucane after Finucane was injured against UCLA, says her mother for three years tried to get her to wear a defensive facemask, which is similar to a catcher's mask without the helmet.

"I remember telling her," Lowary recalled, "I'm not wearing a mask unless I get hit in the face."

Lowary now wishes she'd heeded her mom's advice sooner.

On Feb. 27, ESPN's Holly Rowe interviewed Lowary for a story about Finucane's injury. A few hours later, Lowary pitched against Oregon during the Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City, Calif.

The Tigers were up 7-0 in the fourth inning when Nikki Udria slashed a line drive that hit Lowary above the corner of her left eye.

"The only thing I really remember from it is blood running down my face and down my neck," said Lowary, who now wears a mask when pitching.

Before last year, Earleywine didn't think defensive masks were necessary, but now he would support a rule to require them.

"I was old-school before Tori got hit," he said. "Now, Paige too, it just makes sense really, especially when you put it in the context of, if it was your daughter."

The NCAA discussed mandating defensive facemasks, especially for pitchers, a few weeks after Finucane's injury, but no action was taken at a June 2015 rules meeting.

"We didn't feel there was adequate data or information really to warrant requirement for defensive players," NCAA softball secretary rules editor Vickie Van Kleeck said. "The softball rules committee requested additional data be collected."

The committee passed a rule requiring batters to wear helmets with a facemask -- a decision in line with organizations like the American Softball Association -- but NCAA membership rejected it, Van Kleeck said.

Defensive facemasks are an even tougher sell, especially for pitchers who didn't grow up wearing them. They have never been commonplace in the sport, and there's a stigma that players who wear them are scared of the ball.

"Our generation maybe just thinks it's a weakness type thing," Lowary said. "In my head, I just thought it was more intimidating, I guess, if I didn't wear one."

The aesthetics of facemasks are another issue for some players, while some others find the equipment ill-fitting or uncomfortable.

"It was especially tough for me if it was hot or humid, because it would get slick and slide around," Finucane said.

Slowly, attitudes in the softball community toward defensive headgear are shifting.

"I see it changing and, I want to say, for the better," Belton High coach Jeff Hulse said. "I see more and more kids having face protection and skull and brain protection. I think it's a really positive thing. They're being proactive and avoiding the risk."

Hulse, who guided Olathe East to seven state championships and 14 regional titles in 16 seasons before moving to Belton last fall, spent several years on the National Federation of High Schools' Softball Rules Committee.

He said defensive facemasks have been a topic of conversation for several years and eventually he believes they will be required equipment.

"There's a lot of research and numbers about concussions and these types of injuries," Hulse said. "I see something like that coming down the road. I really do, but it has to be supported by data to give it validation."

Many kids today aren't waiting. The entire infield on Hulse's Pirates team last fall wore defensive facemasks, a first in his three decades of coaching.

Belton junior ace Madison Hunsaker started wearing a defensive facemask when she was 10 years old after seeing a pitcher get hit in the face by a batted ball during a tournament in Olathe.

"She was laying there for a long time," she said, "and I just didn't want that to happen to me."

Hunsaker has never regretted the decision, which was reinforced last spring watching the Mizzou-UCLA game.

"I was watching that game when Tori got hit in the face," Hunsaker said. "They kept playing it over and over again, and it was just a scary thing to see. . . . The reaction time between a pitch and it being hit back is so quick. I'm glad to see more people wearing the masks."

For many years, Hunsaker was the only player on her team who used a defensive mask.

"When I was younger, people would say, 'Are you sure you want to wear that? Most people don't,'" Hunsaker said. "I understand that people might say that a person who wears a mask is soft or scared of the ball . . . but I went against that and now it's a natural habit."

Hunsaker's teammate with the Pirates, Amelie Hall, never wanted to wear a facemask, but her mother, Stephanie, intervened a year ago when she switched positions.

"My mom was like, 'If you're going to start playing third base, you need to start wearing a mask,'" Hall said. "Basically, it was start wearing a mask or I was going to be grounded."

Similar to Finucane and Lowary, Hall's opinion on the protective gear has changed.

"I was always told that my glove is my best friend and it was supposed to protect me," Hall said, "but now I'm happy my mom made me wear the mask. I had a couple hits last year that I caught, but, if I didn't catch them, they would've hit me in the face and it could've injured me very badly."

As encouraging as the trend is, some question remains if the new generation of defensive facemasks go far enough.

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment drafted safety specifications for defensive headgear in baseball and softball during the last few years, but it has declined to certify a facemask-only device.

"We couldn't, in ethical good conscience, make a standard for that when we didn't have confidence that alone would protect against the kind of injuries that are going to be seen . . ." executive director Mike Oliver said. "To withstand a straight-on hit, it needs to be something more substantial."

The only way a mask alone would be sufficient, according to NOCSAE's guidelines, is if it was heavily padded like a catcher's mask, but field players aren't likely to use such equipment, Oliver said.

Being struck in the face by a batted ball is a rare event in softball and baseball, but the data on such injuries also proved problematic for another reason.

"The injury epidemiology indicates the risk of getting hit in the face with a batted ball is the same as getting hit in the head by a batted ball," Oliver said. "We didn't feel confident that we could draft a standard for a facemask alone, knowing there was also a substantial risk of head injury in that circumstance. . . . You could have a helmet by itself with no face protection or a helmet with a facemask, but you can't have just a facemask and meet our standard."

Currently, several companies manufacture defensive facemasks, but none meet the comprehensive specifications for defensive headgear developed by NOCSAE, which is based in Overland Park.

Oliver believes facemask manufacturers don't see a market for defensive headgear that includes a shell that encompasses the entire head, even if it's lightweight, akin to a bicycle helmet.

The lack of equipment that meets safety certifications also presents a hurdle for the NCAA in making defensive headgear mandatory, Van Kleeck said.

The net result is that safety, for now, remains an individual choice.

"There's nothing that prevents a player from wearing a facemask right now," Van Kleeck said. "The rules committee feels that if a player feels more comfortable wearing one of the defensive facemasks to play an infield position that they are welcome to do so."

Unfortunately, players don't always make prudent choices.

After Lowary was hit by a comebacker against Oregon, she begged Earleywine to put her back into the game, a request at which he understandably balked.

"I was like, 'Go to the hospital or do something,' but the trainer came to me and said she had no concussion symptoms, so if you want her to pitch she can pitch," Earleywine said. "I looked at her and said, 'Do you really want to pitch?' She said, 'Yeah, I'm fine.'"

Lowary had witnessed firsthand the mental anguish Finucane went through trying to get back in the pitching circle and wanted to get out there again as soon as possible.

"My eye wasn't swollen shut yet, and I didn't feel lightheaded," Lowary said. "I actually felt pretty good still. No one else was warming up, and I was pitching a really good game. I didn't feel like it was affecting me very much. Even when I threw my warm-up pitches, I felt fine, but, when that first batter stepped in there, I got scared instantly."

After reflection, Earleywine said he wishes he hadn't let her re-enter the game.

Finucane had trouble sleeping for several weeks after she was struck in the head last May and still experiences "constant and annoying" black floaters in her peripheral vision, which gets worse in bright sunlight or when looking at bright white monitors during class.

The spot where Finucane was hit remains tender nearly a year later and her jaw occasionally cracks and clicks. She also experiences discomfort in the damaged sinus cavity on team flights because of altitude and pressure changes.

Still, the physical recovery, even with lingering side effects, wasn't the hardest part for Finucane.

"The hardest thing to come back from was the fear," she said. "I was scared out there in the circle. I couldn't help but think about it."

Finucane, who said she never considered retiring, worked with a sports psychologist and threw a lot of bullpens trying to regain her comfort.

Her only hope now is that younger players will learn from her experience rather than experience it themselves.

"If it could happen to anybody, I'm glad it happened to me, I guess, because I could come through it," Finucane said. "I'm scared for the girl that maybe can't. Hopefully, now they can see that wearing a mask isn't so bad. It's better than getting hit in the head and having a scarier moment happen."

Source: Kansas City Star


Cardinals name Maren Viland new softball coach

When Tom Langfeldt stepped down as the Bethlehem Academy softball coach last June, a popular name among those close to the program thought to be a top candidate was Maren Viland. Roughly 100 days later, first instinct was proven correct.

Bethlehem Academy announced Tuesday that Viland would be taking over as the head softball coach. She has two daughters at BA, Grace, who's the Cardinals' catcher and a junior, and Maggie, who's a sophomore and runs cross country and track.

"I always thought over the last few years that if the opportunity came up, I would take a shot at it," said Viland. "When the news did come out, I hesitated a little bit for a couple of reasons. One, Grace is on the team and I've coached her a lot over the years. I backed away a little bit last year and I thought our relationship grew by not having that coach-daughter relationship.

"Two, I was a little worried with Maggie as a sophomore and we have a 10-year-old. So I backed away, but then got more encouragement over the summer and as I thought about it more, I thought I could do some good things and take things to another level. I reached out to Ed [Friesen, the athletic director] and he was gracious enough to let me apply."

Viland comes with a wealth of experience as she played softball collegiately at St. Olaf --where she was a MIAC all-conference performer -- and she's spent the last six years as part of the Faribault Fastpitch Association where she's been involved as a coach and board officer.

"I think the things we looked at or liked that she's got a passion for the game," said Friesen. "[She has] an enthusiasm for the game. She's got a nice perspective as far as wanting each kid to get better and improve, just a very good sense of understanding what's important. Those were the things that jumped out during the course of the interview."

Viland has some experience coaching some of the players she'll be coaching with BA during the summer as a few played with the Fury fastpitch team that went to the national tournament. Her experience around that team has helped her develop a lot of relationships and Friesen said that Viland's ability to build the program was something that appealed to them.

That was another aspect that we liked, she's got connections to the Faribault fastpitch association as an opportunity to build on those relationships which can help boost our program," said Friesen. "That can help get elementary kids playing. In the years that I've been the AD, we have two teams; a varsity and a B-squad or a JV team. We're not there like we are with the baseball program. We're hoping that with some of those relationships with Faribault Fastpitch, that can help grow the interest and help us field a bigger program."

In the short-term, Viland inherits a team that could be in for a very strong season. The Cardinals won 15 games and were a game away from playing in the section finals a year ago and return most of their core including top players like Shelby Meyer, Grace Viland and Tess Glenzinski. BA didn't graduate any seniors and returns eight starters.

That was part of the appeal for Viland but what really pushed her to go for the job was the support and encouragement she'd gotten from people around Faribault and the program.

"I had parents of girls that I'd coached before that really pushed me and I think that helped a lot," said Viland. "My husband too, he just kept saying you should do it. The natural worry is about having support and to know you already have that and people believe in, it's really neat. I'm not going to be perfect. I'm not worried about what the reaction will be because my best intentions are for the players."

Friesen had Viland as a main target long before the official decision was made too. When Langfeldt stepped down in June, Viland's name came up as a possible fit.

"She was one of those individuals we were aware of," said Friesen. "Having a daughter in the program and knowing her background as someone who played and has been involved in the game for a while, we knew she could be an option for us as far as filling the position."

It'll be a while still before softball is really on the mind of most, but when that time does come, the Cardinals will go into the season with high expectations and a lot of talent. A lot of the faces will be the same from a season ago, but there will be some subtle differences.

"I'm big on everybody being engaged," said Viland. "It's an hour-and-a-half game so I want a lot of chatter and a lot of hustle. I think coach Langfeldt was really aggressive stealing bases and I'd like to see more of that too. We have depth with young girls coming up and I think we'll have opportunities to substitute and use that against our opponents. I try to focus on effort and attitude. Those are the things I want people to see when they watch BA play."