Adults on own for youth ball

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BASEBALL - BROOKS KUBENA

The bat clinked, the ball whizzed and Al Morello stepped from be­hind home plate to see the par­ent who was coach­ing first base fall.

“He took it right in the ribs,” said Morello, 65, a youth league um­pire in his 25th year. “Knocked him over. If that would have been in the head. We would have had an­other story.”

Morello was um­pir­ing 12-year-olds at the Cal Rip­ken League South­west Re­gional on July 13 in Grant, Okla. — 250 miles from the Ju­nior Deputy ball­park in Lit­tle Rock where he has um­pired for over a decade.

Morello said he re­mem­bers how par­ents were more care­ful in the months af­ter Tulsa Drillers coach Mike Cool­baugh’s death, af­ter get­ting hit with a line drive 10 years ago.

But since then, he still strug­gles with coaches who won’t follow the league’s rule of wear­ing a mask while they play catch to warm up their pitch­ers.

Base coaches within and out­side the Cal Rip­ken age level, which is an ex­ten­sion of the Babe Ruth youth league, aren’t re­quired to wear pro­tec­tive head gear.

“I’d like to see them all wear hel­mets,” Morello said. “Maybe if a par­ent sees it as their hus­band coach­ing, I think the higher-ups would be more agree­able.”

Mike Cool­baugh’s wi­dow, Mandy Cool­baugh, whose 13-year-old son, Ja­cob, played in the Lit­tle League World Se­ries, has dis­cussed with the league’s panel about a rule that would re­quire par­ents to wear hel­mets when they coach the bases. The league is sep­a­rate from the Babe Ruth league, and as of to­day, no such rule is in place in ei­ther league.

“You have 13-year-olds play­ing with short­ened base paths, with dads out there,” Mandy Cool­baugh said. “Why wouldn’t you pro­tect them when there’s so much re­search that you could pro­tect them?”

Mandy Cool­baugh’s el­dest son, Joey, 15, will start play­ing high school base­ball in San An­to­nio.

The Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of State High School As­so­ci­a­tion, which ad­min­is­ters sports reg­u­la­tions to all Amer­i­can high schools, re­quires that ath­letes must wear hel­mets when they coach bases. But there is no rule in place for coaches to wear one.

“I think there’s been some dis­cus­sion about it,” said Bob Gard­ner, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “To this point, we have not had any in­ci­dents that are any­thing like what hap­pened in the Tulsa game. Coaches have not felt the urge to have that rule passed. … We feel a stronger re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect the youth, the stu­dent ath­lete. We rec­og­nize adults have a height­ened aware­ness of safety. We just don’t re­quire it of them.”

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