Helmets become a hot topic in British slowpitch

Thu 28 Sep 2017

As the 2017 season winds down with the last outdoor tournaments of the year, two large and long-established slowpitch leagues – Manchester and Windsor – have announced that it will be compulsory for batters and baserunners to wear helmets during league play in 2018.

A mandatory helmets policy already exists in the East Midlands League, and in two newer leagues, Sefton and Milton Keynes, which instituted the practice from the beginning and thus established it as normal.

East Midlands League Chair Phil Kielthy said, “EMSL started the rule in 2012 and has had six successful seasons with it.  We were the first, which I am proud of as Chairman and part of the Committee.”  The EMSL believes it has lost only one player as a result of its policy – and that player still plays in the National Softball League.

The Solent Softball League, after previously passing a motion to make helmets mandatory, voted before the 2017 season to run a kind of halfway house, where it is mandatory to have helmets available at games, but wearing them remains optional. 

Other leagues plan to discuss the question over the winter, including leagues such as the GLSML and Edinburgh, where decisions had been made in the past to reject a mandatory policy.

However, some leagues, such as Cardiff, have no interest in looking at the issue and believe most of their players would reject the idea.  League Head David McCarthy said, "I know perhaps three players in the whole league who choose to wear a helmet -- beyond that, they're nonexistent for us."


BSF and BSUK‚Äč

The British Softball Federation Executive will also re-look at the issue when it holds its annual face-to-face weekend meeting at the end of October, and a number of leagues will be waiting to see whether the BSF plans to make a policy statement and whether the Federation can help with the cost of purchasing helmets.

Meanwhile, BaseballSoftballUK has announced an intention to provide a supply of helmets at competitive prices that individuals, teams or leagues can purchase before the 2018 season.  It’s possible that these helmets can be customised for teams or leagues.

For more information about the purchase of helmets through BaseballSoftballUK, contact John Boyd (john.boyd@bsuk.com).


One death too many….

The fact that making helmets mandatory in British slowpitch play has become such a hot topic in recent weeks is undoubtedly related to an incident in Canada this summer that has had wide exposure on the internet and social media.

Thirty-two-year old Chris Godfrey from Courtenay, British Columbia, shown below with his wife and one-year-old daughter, was hit in the back of the head by a thrown ball while running to first base during a slowpitch charity tournament game on 19 August and died in hospital 10 days later.  Godrey was not wearing a helmet, and their use has been uncommon in most recreational slowpitch leagues in Canada, but a number of leagues in British Columbia may make them mandatory from now on.

While fatal or even serious head injuries are rare in slowpitch softball, there is a growing feeling among some players in Britain that one death is too many.  One player said, “Look on YouTube and it’s clear it’s only a matter of time before someone gets badly hurt.  We have just been lucky in my view.”

Opposition

There is, however, a long tradition in British softball that has opposed the wearing of helmets as unnecessary.

Reasons given are that helmets impair vision and the ability to run and are often ill-fitting, sweaty and uncomfortable.  Others cite the low occurrence of serious accidents that a helmet might have prevented, including a statistic that slowpitch softball has had only 1.14 concussions per 10,000 playing years in the United States without the use of helmets.  Others would resist a mandatory policy, believing that wearing a helmet should be a matter of choice.

Andy Burgess from the Solent League, which pulled back from an initial decision to make helmets mandatory, believes that introducing them with new players could be the best way to bring about change. 

“This may in fact be the key to eventually making the wearing of helmets a natural part of the slowpitch game in future years,” Andy said.  “If you’re told to wear one at your very first practice, chances are you’ll simply accept it as part and parcel of the game.”

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