Making a strong pitch for school kids' safety


November 09, 1997|By Mike Burns

THERE'S A TROPHY I carry from my schoolboy days, the result of a brief career in sandlot baseball. It reminds me of its presence now and then, when the weather changes suddenly and a storm front moves in. A partially deviated septum, the doctor called it. Of the nose. Not a major problem but possibly (he told me in my teens) a problem later on with congestion and sinus problems. He was right.

Having seen the corrective treatment for others with this condition (albeit more severe), I have opted to avoid that painful course, which, I was told, involves breaking the nasal bone to reset it.

I choose instead to deal with the mild discomfort of occasional sinusitis.

Other scars of sports injuries are long forgotten; none has the memory-jogging force of that constricted nasal passage. I often see the pitch from the right-hander's sidearm delivery, the fastball that was too fast for me to do anything but slightly turn my head before it crashed into my nose. (Never forgot that kid's name and face, either; but it wasn't his fault.)

This was before batting helmets were used, probably even before they'd been invented. Had I been wearing a batting helmet, with the ear-cheek protector, I probably would have escaped the damage that left me bleeding profusely from the nose and rushed to the hospital emergency room.

'Amen' for helmets

So when the Carroll County schools finally decided to purchase helmets for elementary school youngsters playing hard ball in the phys ed classes, I was among the first to say "Amen" and to ask why it wasn't done earlier.

While the school system praises itself for acting responsibly (read, slowly) -- appointing a committee to study the obvious solution -- it now appears that the couple of thousand dollars needed won't be available until next year. That is an outrageous decision, perhaps tempered by the fact that parents plan to sue the system over a baseball injury to their son.

All organized professional baseball leagues, Little League and college teams use these protective helmets. If they were not considered effective, you can be sure that some macho types would eschew the helmet, "to get a better look at the pitch" or some such explanation.

The incident that prompted the school system's decision to buy helmets for all gym classes using metal or wooden bats was not due to a pitch that hit a batter. It was because of a flying bat that hit a fourth-grade boy in the eye.

The injury could have been prevented by the requirement of helmets for baseball players in phys ed classes, the boy's parents argued. That may still be open to question, whether a helmet would have sufficiently deflected the bat to avoid the child's eye, even if it would have protected his head.

Batting helmets may not have been in last year's school budget, but it's high time this simple protective equipment was provided in the public schools. The cost of one lawsuit for the county would cover the cost of helmets that can be used for several years.

An alternative, perhaps one favored by critics of ever-rising school budgets, is to eliminate any classes or activities that involve baseballs and bats. Leave the game to the organized leagues and recreation programs, which require helmets, and save the cost to the schools. That, I suspect, would not find overwhelming support.

Cell phones for school buses

Another unplanned education budget expenditure that makes sense is the new requirement for cellular phones in school buses. Now that prices of these portable phones have dropped, as have service charges, they are an affordable means of instant contact between bus and school office and children's homes.

Carroll schools expect to spend about $50,000 for the phones and service, with contractors or their drivers paying the bills and getting reimbursed. That aims to avoid abuses, while allowing drivers more leeway to deal with problems than simply dialing 911.

Drivers have to deal with unexpected traffic jams, sickness on the bus, blocked streets, running out of gas, breakdowns, as well as auto accidents. It's important for them to be able to communicate promptly in such circumstances.

Try waiting in the bitter cold or in a downpour at the uncovered bus stop with your child when the bus is late and you will readily appreciate the need. Or give up and learn that the bus arrived much later and missed your child.

As with batting helmets, Carroll is the first school district in the metro region, perhaps in Maryland, to require cellular phones in all school buses. Some counties have them in buses for the disabled, and some route contractors have the phones (or two-way radios) in their school buses. This year, Howard County mandated that any new school bus be equipped with phone or radio.

It's a credit to the Carroll schools that they are first in the state to adopt these safety measures for children, even if some grouse that money could be better spent on instructional items. There's no reason that other counties couldn't follow step in protecting school children, before they get hit over the (unprotected) head to do so.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 11/09/97

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