Hit a few balls, catch some flies, have a laugh or two, and drink a few pops, or wobbly pops — it’s what draws many to the world of recreational slo-pitch.
But in the wake of the tragic death of a player in Comox, safety has been top of mind for many involved in the sport.
Chris Godfrey – a 32-year-old husband, father and slo-pitch player — died in hospital after being injured Aug. 19 during an annual tournament organized by the Comox Valley Slo-Pitch League. A ball thrown from the infield hit him in the back of the head.
As a result of the accident, the Comox Valley Slo-Pitch League has made helmets mandatory for all players.
With Langley Mixed Slo-Pitch getting set to host the SPN provincial co-ed championships Sept. 16 and 17 at McLeod Athletic Park, league president Peter Zeller offered his thoughts about making helmets mandatory.
Zeller, who has sat at the helm of Canada’s largest co-ed slo-pitch league for the past 25 years, noted that mandatory helmets will be discussed during the league’s fall meeting in October.
“We’ll put that on the agenda and we’ll have a discussion on whether or not that’s something people want to do,” Zeller said.
“People are always encouraged to wear whatever protective gear they feel is necessary. The league doesn’t enforce it as mandatory gear to wear, in helmets and facemasks, but players are more than welcome to do that on their own without us having to tell them what to do.”
Zeller said there are players with Langley Mixed Slo-Pitch who wear helmets.
“We’re seeing more and more face masks, especially for pitchers and girls in the infield,” he added.
Zeller knows a few players who have been injured playing rec slo-pitch, including former league executive member Guy Olsson.
“He actually got hit in the side of the head, close to his orbital bone, and he was in surgery. After that event, he wore a helmet all the way through when he was batting,” Zeller said.
“It (wearing a helmet) is something that is there for people to do at any time. It’s whether or not the league has to step in and say, ‘OK, you guys, we’re doing this to protect you, much like seatbelts or much like the NHL with visors and helmets and things like that.”
Looking ahead to the league meeting, Zeller said majority will rule regarding making helmets mandatory.
“All the coaches are there, and we have a list of different topics to discuss,” Zeller said, noting that the league takes this issue very seriously.
“We’ll put it on the agenda and see what they say. We are a democracy, so if 50 plus one (per cent) say everybody should go out there and buy helmets for their teams, then that’s what we have to do.”
In the Lower Mainland, Danielle Hitchner was seriously injured when she was hit in the head by an errant ball during a game in New Westminster on May 31, 2016.
Hitchner has launched an online petition calling for helmets to become mandatory in slo-pitch.
“I was knocked unconscious and required emergency brain surgery. I am very lucky to be alive today,” Hitchner wrote on her change.org page.
“After my accident, I asked the head of the league, ‘If I had died, would you change the rule? Or does it take someone dying in order to change the rule?’ Tragically, here we are. Please sign this petition for Softball Canada to change the rules and make helmets mandatory across all leagues to ensure no loved one ever has to go through the trauma and devastation of a tragedy like this ever again.”
Next weekend, more than 40 co-ed teams from across B.C. are expected to play in the provincial tournament in Langley, including 10 to 15 from the Langley league, Zeller said.