/Starkville junior spearheads rules change, making fast-pitch softball a safer sport

Starkville junior spearheads rules change, making fast-pitch softball a safer sport

We won’t go there. Ally Barefield is a Starkville High softball baseman. Ally is well aware of the dangers inherent to softball. She has seen the worst. She also knows that corner infielders and pitchers are at greatest risk. Because they are so close to the plate, it is often difficult for them to react to a hard-hit pitch. Ally was 16 years old when she came up with the idea. This would be her Girl Scouts project that qualified for the Gold Award. It is the highest honor the organization can bestows and the equivalent to Eagle Scout for boys. She proposed to the Mississippi High School Activities Association, the state’s governing body for school athletics, that pitchers, first and third basemen wear protective masks. Ally stated, “Last season, one of my team members was hit with a baseball in practice.” She was not wearing a mask and she was playing first base. It was frightening. They needed to call an ambulance to take her away. According to doctors, it was about an inch below her temple. It could have even killed her if it was an inch higher.” Girls Scouts require a seven-step process to earn the Gold Award: 1. Choose an issue, 2. Investigate, 3. Seek help from a mentor, 4. Create a plan and 5. Present your plan. 6. Educate and Inspire. Ally met all requirements. Ally was aware of her problem. She researched how other states handled it (not well), and polled Mississippi softball coaches about their feelings. She also researched the incidence of softball-related head injuries. She presented her plan to both the state and district levels of the MHSAA. This was a first for a Mississippi student athlete. She suggested that pitchers, first and third basemen should wear face masks. The proposal speaks for itself. Dana Brooks, a Starkville nurse practitioner, was her mentor. Brooks had already required Brooks’ daughter to wear a mask while playing infield positions. Ronald Campbell, Starkville’s fast pitch coach, and Cheyenne Trussell, the athletic director were willing to help. Campbell has been a fast-pitch coach for five years, and has seen the potential. He said, “We’ve had some near misses and close calls.” “So I was all in favor of it. It makes perfect sense. Anything that makes the game safer for our students makes sense. And this was it: Campbell, who was playing third base in slow pitch softball years ago, was struck by a bad-hop ball in his jaw. He said, “Broke it at two places.” Campbell has a daughter that plays second base, and not first or third. Campbell requires his daughter to wear a mask. He believes that all infielders should wear masks. Campbell stated that fast-pitch is fast and that the bunting, slap-hitting, and short games are all part of fast-pitch. “The batter swings away while the batter is batting. The first and third basemen are the ones who come up to play for the bunt. They can only be 25 feet from the plate. It’s frightening.” Campbell provided the MHSAA Coaching Directory, which Ally used for a survey of every fast-pitch coach within the state. The rule she proposed was supported by 80 percent of the respondents. Honors student Ally had to present her proposal twice: once at the Louisville district level and again at the Clinton state level at MHSAA offices. Don Hinton, executive director of MHSAA, was present at both. Hinton stated, “She did an incredible job.” She had done her research. She did extensive research. She was clear in her arguments. “A little?” No, a lot. She said, “I had never spoken in front of an audience of adult strangers before.” It was nerve-wracking and intimidating, but she made it through it and her proposal was unanimously approved at the district level. The state meeting was next, and Ally Barefield seemed much more confident. Hinton stated that she performed like a pro at the state level. You couldn’t tell she was nervous. It was amazing to see.” She clearly made an impact. Ally’s proposal was passed almost unanimously at the state level 35 to 1. It has now been made law by the MHSAA. Mississippi will now be the first state to require that the four most dangerous positions, including catcher, wear face masks. Hinton states, “It’s an excellent rule.” “I believe you’ll see others do the same.” Wednesday marked Ally Barefield’s 17th birthday. Thursday marked her final day of 11th grade. This was a year in which she achieved something that no Mississippi high schooler has ever done. She did, however, receive her Girls Scouts Gold Award.