Injured Softball Player Leads Push For Protective Face Masks

CHATFIELD, Minn. (WCCO) — When you think of sports injuries, you probably think high intensity, contact sports like hockey and football. However, in southern Minnesota, softball coaches are trying to highlight the risk of the game – and push for more protective gear.

On the softball diamond in Chatfield, Minn., the girls’ varsity team practices for an upcoming scrimmage. But there is one player who’s missing, benched at home because of an injury.

“It’s really hard not going to practice,” said Jennifer Hanson, a pitcher for Chatfield’s softball team.

Hanson gets dizzy when standing and her lips and mouth are still swollen from a line drive that hit her face, Saturday, while pitching.

“I’ve had them hit me in the legs and shins and I’ve seen it happen in the face, but I never thought it would happen to me,” said Hanson.

Her coach, Jeff Johnson, watched his player fall to the ground unconscious and then hauled off by ambulance.

“Typically, you don’t have a lot of injuries in baseball or softball, but when you do, sometimes they are pretty threatening,” said Johnson.

Last year, the Minnesota State High School League pushed back the pitcher’s mound by three feet. It increases the chance of making a hit, but many believe it also raises the risk of getting hit.

“It’s making us pitchers throw slower, and girls are getting more contact with ball and hitting it harder. So, it’s affecting us pitchers negatively,” said Hanson.

That’s why Johnson is now encouraging his pitchers and third base players to wear protective head gear. Grace Sagdalen started wearing the mask this season.

“At first, I thought, OK, this is going to be hard to pitch with, but I can’t even feel it’s there anymore,” said Grace Sagdalen, a pitcher on the Chatfield softball team.

Johnson, along with other softball coaches in the area, plan to push for the masks to become a requirement.

“This game has evolved enough that our girls are getting bigger and stronger, and they are hitting the ball pretty hard,” said Johnson.

Jennifer sees the rule as the only way to ensure player safety.

“My mom mentioned wearing a mask this year, and right away, I told her, no way, I don’t want to look silly,” said Hanson. “Now, I will definitely be wearing a mask.”

It’s a lesson learned from an injury that could ultimately change the game.

It will take some time before the Minnesota State High School League can make the change. Before every season, a task force considers new safety measures.

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