Parents of Lexington teen smashed in face by softball seek improvements to dugouts

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJanuary 12, 2014 

Jay and Traci Doleman of Lexington say they don't want another Kentucky athlete to suffer injuries similar to the ones sustained by their 14-year-old daughter, Jayda, when she was hit by a softball while standing in a dugout last year.

Jayda, a member of the softball team at Lexington's Lafayette High School, was standing in the first base dugout March 22 when an errant throw during warm-ups hit her. Jayda sustained multiple fractures of the eye socket, retinal tears, a scratched cornea, permanent vision impairment, a concussion, a broken nose and three dislocated teeth.

Medical expenses, including those covered by insurance, totaled about $47,000, her father said.

"All I remember is feeling a really sharp pain, and then I was in the hospital," Jayda said.

''It was scary because she couldn't remember anything,'' Traci Doleman said.

The Dolemans took their story to a Fayette County School Board meeting in December, showing photographs of the injuries Jayda received and asking for safety enhancements for dugouts at Fayette County schools and elsewhere. Jay Doleman is concerned that there appear to be no specific standards in Kentucky requiring netting or fencing of a certain height to protect players in a dugout.

Improving the safety of a dugout is simple, he said, and could cost as little as a few hundred dollars. Jay and Traci Doleman said they had seen dugouts in the state with covered openings so a ball can't sail through.

In response, school Superintendent Tom Shelton said Friday that he was making improvements. Shelton said the Dolemans' presentation before the school board was the first time he had heard about their daughter's experience.

Shelton said Fayette County's Plant Operations Department staff followed up, inspecting the softball dugout fencing at Lafayette High School and proposing safety enhancements to address the Dolemans' concerns.

"We will be extending the height of the fencing by an additional 2 feet, bringing it to 8 feet at Lafayette," Shelton said. "We will also be inspecting the softball and baseball dugouts at all of our other high schools and making appropriate safety enhancements prior to the start of spring practice."

The Dolemans said they were encouraged by Shelton's actions.

They say they think improvements should be made to dugouts across the state and standards put in place across the nation. Traci Doleman said the family planned to talk to Kentucky High School Athletic Association officials.

"I'm sure this isn't the first time that someone has gotten hit by a ball over a low fence," said Jayda, who missed several days of school and could not play the rest of the 2013 softball season. She plays mostly in the outfield, her father said.

Raising the height of a fence would help, Jay Doleman said. He said other options could include stretching netting from the roofline of a dugout to the top of the fence in front of a dugout, or having a fence that extends all the way up to the dugout's roofline.

Julian Tackett, commissioner of the KHSAA, said he had not heard about the Dolemans' situation but said he would be happy to talk to them.

The KHSAA has adopted the National Federation of State High School Association regulations, Tackett said, but the Kentucky organization could propose rule changes to address dugout safety specifically.

"We are always open to suggestions," he said, "even if that means proposing a national rule change."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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