Coach's injury shows need for helmets

SIDELINES

April 09, 1993|By PAT O'MALLEY

Hopefully, by the time you read this, Glen Burnie baseball coach Bruce Sider will be in the clear after being struck in the head by a line drive Wednesday at Southern-Anne Arundel.

Sider, who was pitching pre-game batting practice, was flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore on Wednesday and was listed in "serious and stable condition" yesterday.

Unfortunately, it took Sider's misfortune to bring attention to the necessity of taking every safety precaution available for sports. Safety can't be taken for granted.

A couple of years ago, the national federation of high schools mandated the wearing of helmets by players who coach first or third base. At first, some thought it was going too far with safety measures and joked about it, but the fact that an athlete could be struck in the head by a batted or thrown ball while coaching was reason enough.

Girls lacrosse refuses to have its players wear helmets. The reasoning, that if you coach the game right injuries won't occur, is absurd, if not irresponsible.

Baseball coaches tell their pitchers to throw strikes and not at the batter's head, but once in a while baseballs go astray and hit players in the head. That's why helmets with earflaps are required for those batting, coaching or waiting on deck; also, any catcher warming up a pitcher must wear a mask.

Coaches pitching batting practice six feet in front of the mound (regulation distance is 60 feet, 6 inches to home plate) without a protective screen, as Sider was doing, are risking their safety.

Should protective screens be made mandatory for pre-game batting practice?

What happened to Sider is a good example of taking safety for granted, and, as a baseball coach, I have to admit I've done the same thing before, but never again.

Most schools have an L-shaped protective screen for batting practice, and the inconvenience of dragging it out to the mound is worth it.

Sider's accident also suggests that maybe batting practice pitchers should wear helmets if no screen is available. What happened to Sider is truly a rarity, but also a signal to take all precautions, something that stubborn girls lacrosse people don't deem necessary.

It was just Sunday that I raised the question in "Sidelines" of "Should girls lacrosse players wear helmets?"

Most of the feedback I got was in favor of girls lacrosse helmets, primarily because the injury potential exists, despite what the purists say, and helmets serve as a preventive measure. Obviously, baseball takes every precaution, and for that reason it serves as a good comparison to girls lacrosse. Boys lacrosse is a contact sport and can't be likened to the girls game.

Those against helmets for girls lacrosse players say such a requirement would ruin their finesse game of continuous passing and running. They insist that dressing girls in helmets would make them more aggressive and soon their game would be as much a contact sport as the boys', and I don't feel they're giving the girls much credit to believe that.

"I totally disagree with your article," said Donna Fahey of Montgomery County on the 24-Hour Sportsline after receiving a copy of Sunday's "Sidelines" column from Cathy Samaras of Annapolis. Samaras, president of the Chesapeake Women's Lacrosse Association, is against helmets and passed out copies of my column Sunday.

"It all has to do with the coaching. I played in the nationals in 1985 and the California and Colorado teams both had men coaches. Their girls were allowed to penetrate that sphere around the head, and they were allowed to make physical body contact. Several of them were carded and kicked out of the game because of their roughness."

St. Mary's athletic director Carmine Blades called to say that "all of our injuries over the last three years have been face or head injuries and if you ask any of our parents, they are in favor of wearing helmets."

The way I see it, it's not a men's or women's game. It's a kids' game, not a political football.

Safety in sports should be the No .1 priority because when the athletes feel safe, they learn better and play better.

No matter how great the teaching and coaching, you can't eliminate injuries, but we owe it to the athletes to take every measure to prevent harm.

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