‘There’s no time to react’: Facemasks becoming more popular for Maine high school softball players

Hermon pitcher Allessa Oakes (right) fields the ball and throws to first base during a game against John Bapst on April 30. Hermon has three players who wear facemasks while playing in the field.
Haley Johnston
Hermon pitcher Allessa Oakes (right) fields the ball and throws to first base during a game against John Bapst on April 30. Hermon has three players who wear facemasks while playing in the field.
Posted May 09, 2014, at 2:49 p.m.
Mount Desert Island’s Haley Littlefield delivers a pitch against Old Town during a game on Monday.  Facemasks for pitchers and infielders are becoming more prevalent in high school softball.
Michael C. York
Mount Desert Island’s Haley Littlefield delivers a pitch against Old Town during a game on Monday. Facemasks for pitchers and infielders are becoming more prevalent in high school softball.

Mackenzie Coiley had a promising softball career at Foxcroft Academy.

But that all changed during a game three years ago against Central of Corinth her freshman year.

She was pitching and threw a change-up on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded.

“That’s the last thing I remembered other than the fire in my cheek,” said Coiley, who was hit in the face by a line drive that broke her cheekbone and jawbone and gave her a severe concussion.

She missed two weeks of school and said she suffered the effects of the concussion for two to three months.

“I came back and got into two games. I played the outfield and wore a mask. I was OK in the outfield, but when I was hitting, I couldn’t get over my fear of the ball. I was always backing out of the batter’s box,” said Coiley, who switched over to tennis her sophomore year.

“I knew I couldn’t play softball to my full potential, so I wouldn’t be doing anything for the team because of my fear of the ball. I had played softball since I was 6 or 7. I never thought I wouldn’t play it,” said Coiley, who is a senior.

“But I picked up tennis, and I love it,” added Coiley, who is the Ponies’ No. 1 singles player.

Facemasks for pitchers and infielders are becoming more prevalent in softball, and Coiley said had she been wearing one that day, she would probably still be pitching.

“I might have gotten a mild concussion, but I think I would have kept playing softball. Masks are a good idea,” said Coiley. “It gives a player reassurance and protection. Now when I think back on it, I realize how dangerous it was not to wear one. You are so close to the hitter.”

Third basemen and first basemen are also vulnerable because they are so close to the hitters and sometimes find themselves creeping down the foul line if they think the hitter is going to bunt.

“So if the hitter fakes the bunt and swings, you are right on top of the hitter. You’re closer than the pitcher. There’s no time to react,” said Coiley.

Hermon High School has three players who wear masks, and Foxcroft has two.

Hermon assistant softball coach Duane Graves said he has seen entire infields wearing facemasks at the younger age groups.

“I like it. I’m a parent. I don’t want to see my kid get hit in the face,” said Graves, who is in favor of pitchers and all infielders wearing facemasks.

“The ball is coming off the bats a lot harder than it used to five or six years ago, and pitchers throw harder, so the ball coming off the bat comes back at you faster,” said Graves.

Graves had just witnessed Foxcroft Academy pitcher Brittany Adkins get injured when she was hit in the leg by a line drive.

“She didn’t have a chance to move,” said Graves.

The rubber in the pitching circle is 43 feet from home plate.

Graves noted there is a Youtube video that was made about five or six years ago that showed a Husson University pitcher get hit in the forehead by a line drive and the ball “went 30 feet in the air and landed on the dugout.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if [facemasks] became mandatory [for infielders and pitchers] just like goggles did in field hockey,” said Foxcroft softball coach Scott Anderson referring to the decision by the Maine Principals’ Association to require field hockey players to wear goggles to protect their eyes beginning in the 2007 season.

“I don’t see any reason for outfielders to wear them, but I would highly recommend them for pitchers and infielders,” he added.

Gerry Durgin, the Maine Principals’ Association’s softball liaison, said the Maine Principals’ Association doesn’t have a mandate yet, but the National Federation of High Schools’ softball committee has been studying the issue extensively because there have been some “pretty serious injuries” in softball involving girls without masks getting hit by the ball.

“[Mandatory masks] are going to come just like the goggles did in field hockey,” predicted Durgin, who coached softball at Telstar High School in Bethel, Fryeburg Academy and Gorham High School.

“You don’t want to change the integrity of the game, but you have to make sure you protect the players,” said Durgin. “When I was coaching, I used to have my third baseman come down the line [in case of a bunt], but if I was coaching now, I wouldn’t. You have to think of the safety of the kids. The players and the equipment are better now.”

Several high school players who wear them began using the facemasks several years ago.

“I began wearing one when I was 9,” said Hermon High School sophomore pitcher-shortstop Allessa Oakes.

“I had braces for a long time, and I really don’t want to lose my teeth [to a line drive],” grinned Oakes. “And I’m not as afraid of the ball now.”

Hermon freshman pitcher-third baseman Lexey MacManus also began wearing one when she was 9 after her father, Jim, told her he wanted her to try it.

“He had seen a lot of girls hit by the ball, and he didn’t want me to get hit,” said MacManus. “It has given me a sense of security. I can do more, I can go after [the ball] harder.”

MacManus said you see more players wearing masks at the younger ages than you do in high school.

“A lot of girls don’t think they’re going to get hit by the ball in high school so they don’t wear them,” said MacManus.

“I love it. It has saved me many times,” said Hermon junior third baseman Kylie Kennedy, who wore her first mask during 11-12-year-old all-stars.

Foxcroft freshman third baseman Grace Bickford just started wearing a facemask this season.

“Third basemen get a lot of line drives, so I’m wearing one to keep from taking one in the face,” said Bickford. “It took me just one practice to get comfortable with it.”

The players said there are several varieties of masks, so it is up to the player to find one that is comfortable.

One of the major concerns with the facemask is how it impacts the players’ peripheral vision.

“It’s kind of hard to see the ball on the right side, but it isn’t too bad,” said Oakes. “It’s definitely worth wearing the mask.”

“I don’t think it’s any different than wearing sunglasses,” said MacManus.

“I’ve never had a girl tell me she lost a ball because of the mask,” said Graves.

 

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