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Metal Cleats Allowed in High School Softball, Says NFHS

Rule sparks controversy, rejected by three states and ASA

High school softball players are  permitted to wear metal cleats and metal toe plates as a result of a rule change adopted for the 2008 season by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

"Metal cleats provide better traction for athletes on nearly all surfaces, including hard, wet or under-maintained fields," said Cindy Simmons, chair of the NFHS Softball Rules Committee and assistant executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association.

"They also help prevent slippage on the bases, especially home plate."

Current rules prohibit runners from illegal tactics when sliding, and if sliding is executed correctly, the risk of defensive players being "spiked" will decrease.

Rule change sparks controversy

The rule change permitting metal cleats, which NFHS softball rules editor Mary Struckhoff says, was prompted in part by the fact that they are allowed in high school baseball and in college softball, has not been adopted by all 50 state associations, with Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts still banning metal cleats for softball.

"You're asking for an injury," Plano West (Texas) softball coach Max Bledsoe told The Dallas Morning News (like many coaches, he leaves it up to his players whether they wear metal spikes. About half do).

Indeed, injuries - some serious - have resulted from players getting spiked by the metal cleats of sliding runners.  Not surprising, say some softball coaches, because up until now softball players have never worn metal cleats, not even on select teams playing under the rules of the Amateur Softball Association (ASA), which has declined to adopt the new NFHS rule

"I don't see us going to metal cleats," said John Phillips, commissioner of the Dallas chapter of ASA in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. "We just look at it really as a safety issue."

Others have criticized the new rule because it has shifted the burden of teaching players how to slide safely and avoid being spiked by a runner's cleats when making tags from college to high school coaches.  The advice to players who haven't learned how to play in metal cleats? Don't wear them, coaches say.

Other rule changes

In another change, high school softball rules now require a batter to take her position in the batter's box within 10 seconds after the ball is returned to the pitcher in the circle. Previously, the batter was permitted 20 seconds to enter the box, and the pitcher was also allotted 20 seconds to deliver the pitch. 

"Before this change, we had two sets of rules in conflict with one another," Simmons said. "By allowing the batter 10 seconds to enter the box, the pitcher now has the other 10 seconds to step on the pitcher's plate and deliver the pitch. This change clarifies previous confusion and keeps the game flowing."

The final rules change now restricts the head coach to the dugout when a second, unreported substitution occurs.  Head coaches are held responsible for reporting all substitutions, and if a second infraction occurs, he or she is held accountable along with the player.

The committee also approved major editorial changes in addition to the rules changes.

  • Rule 1-5-4 clarifies what constitutes a legal bat, stating that bats must meet the 2004 ASA Bat Performance Standard, bear either the 2000 or 2004 certification mark and not be on the ASA non-approved list.

  • Rule 2-5-3, new Rule 8-2-13 and Rule 8-6-15 all specify when an on-deck batter is subject to interference and clarifies the penalty associated with the infraction.

  • Rule 3-6-6 adds that bat and ball shaggers are permitted out of the dugout. In addition, bench personnel are permitted out of the dugout between innings for warm-up purposes.

"There have been misconceptions about where individuals need to be during specific points of the game," said Mary Struckhoff, NFHS assistant director and liaison to the Softball Rules Committee. "We want state associations to be aware that it is legal for the bench to engage in throwing and running activities during the one minute designated for the pitcher to warm up at the beginning of each half inning."

Softball is the fourth-most popular sport among girls at the high school level with 369,094 participants during the 2005-06 season, according to the High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the NFHS. It also ranks third in school sponsorship for girls across the nation with 14,710 schools.

Source: National Federation of State High School Associations and The Dallas Morning News