When high school athletes take to the playing fields, they are always at risk for serious injuries.

Taking precautions to prevent these injuries, however, should be a priority for the players and their schools, which is why we applaud the steps that softball pitchers are taking to protect themselves.

In a softball game between the Biddeford Tigers and Kennebunk Rams on Thursday, both pitchers wore face masks while they were pitching.

Usually, it is an odd site to see a pitcher wear protection if they are not already protecting a previous injury such as a broken jaw or nose. But that was not the case for Biddeford’s Abbie Paquette and Kennebunk’s Carinn Burns. Both wore the masks just in case a ball rocketed back at them, striking them in the face.

It is a smart move by both pitchers.

The softball circle is only 46 feet away from the batter, and today’s softball players hit harder than their predecessors, thanks to defined technique, weight lifting routines and advancements in aluminum bat technology.

If a pitcher can hurl a softball at 50-60 mph, that means the ball can come screaming back at them at a much faster speed. The pitcher won’t always have time to react with her glove and runs the risk of the ball striking her, breaking jaws, noses, cheekbones and eye sockets. It could lead to disfigurement or blindness, or at the very least, a serious headache or concussion.

Pitchers are vulnerable to such injuries and making the masks a league rule would go a long way in helping prevent injuries. It makes sense, especially since the Maine Principals’ Association requires softball players to wear masks on their helmets while batting. The hitter’s safety is always a concern, but it’s time for the pitcher’s safety to be taken more seriously, too.

We are not saying that the MPA doesn’t take the safety of all of its athletes seriously, but it would be nice to see all pitchers required to wear the masks.

It does look odd at first to see such attire, but it is for the benefit of the student athlete. After all, athletics are not a fashion contest, and we are dealing with high school students from the ages of 14-18.

Some pitchers might protest, saying that the mask would hinder their performance. But while it might be uncomfortable at first and take an adjustment, it shouldn’t affect the pitcher in the long run. It might, however, make them feel more comfortable knowing that they have that added layer of protection.

Girls lacrosse players and field hockey players are required to wear goggles and face protection, and boys lacrosse players are required to wear shoulder pads and helmets for their safety. Protecting the athlete should always be the first priority.

There has not been a large number of incidents where a softball pitcher has been hit in the face with the ball, but the potential is there. If one future serious incident can be avoided because of a simple rule change, then it is worth the evolution.

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Today’s editorial was written by Sports Editor Al Edwards on behalf of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].