Tragic death brings helmet discussion to forefront for slo-pitch leagues

Comox Valley tragedy leads to mandatory helmets, discussion on player safety

The tragic death of a young Vancouver Island father and husband has put the mandatory use of helmets on the agenda of the Penticton Slo-Pitch League.

Chris Godfrey of Comox Valley was hit in the back of the head while playing in a Courtenay tournament on Aug. 19 and later died in Victoria on Aug. 30.

“It’s one in a billion thing. Nobody has ever seen anything like that happen before and for the rest of my life I’ll probably never see anything like that happen again. It’s tragic,” Island team coach Scott Parsons told the Comox Valley Record whose Ballbusters squad hosted a weekend tournament prior to a vigil for Godfrey.

But players getting hit by errant throws is not uncommon.

Tyler Evans, who plays in leagues in Penticton, Summerland and Kelowna, has seen a lot of of people hit and was himself knocked out after being struck on the side of the head on a throw from the third baseman while on his way to first.

“I don’t remember how much it hurt, I got knocked out,” said Evans. “It dropped me behind the base for a couple of minutes. I woke up and they usually take you out and test for concussions.”

He believes often the reason players are struck is because the person throwing the ball is only thinking getting the ball to the plate as quickly as possible, sometimes sacrificing accuracy.

He described seeing someone else get hit is: “very scary to watch.”

Evans now protects his head when he runs by raising his arms if he feels an errant throw is going to hit him.

When asked if wearing helmets should be mandatory, he said there will be people who don’t play because of that. Evans doesn’t wear a helmet when batting, but puts on a full mask when pitching.

“I think you would see a bit of a push back if it went to mandatory helmets in a league, but I think there would be quite a few accepting people,” he said, adding personally, he doesn’t want to wear a helmet. “I just worry about the safety of the game.”

Adrienne Elliott, president of the Comox Valley Slo-Pitch League noted as a result of the tragic event, the league implemented mandatory helmets. As a result of the incident, other leagues across the Island are considering — or will be — implementing mandatory helmets. The Greater Victoria Mixed Slo-pitch Association voted in favour last week for a mandatory helmet rule for 2018. President of the GVMSA Scott Wood said they will be supplying the teams with five helmets each for that season.

Meanwhile, Chris Atkins, president of the Penticton Slo-Pitch League, said there has been talk about players wearing helmets.

“We’re going to have a discussion at the annual general meeting for sure on whether it should be or not,” said Atkins. “It’s always up to the batter if they want to wear a helmet. That’s kind of where we leave it at. The same as the pitcher right, the pitcher is not required to wear a mask, but you always have that option.”

Since the tragic accident with Godfrey happened, Atkins saw a pitcher wearing a full mask in a men’s game. Atkins said that he and Chris Newton, secretary for Penticton Slo-Pitch, have had discussions about making helmets mandatory. He added that people have the option of attending the AGM and voicing their opinion.

“If we want to implement it, and we have a strong concern on it, then yeah, for sure, we will put it into play,” said Atkins. “We’re just there to do what everybody else wants.”

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