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Archive for Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Which shoe to choose?

Metal cleats have not made mark yet

Lawrence High second baseman Kalli McClure is one of several local softball players who have chosen to stick with rubber cleats instead of switching to metal cleats, now allowed by the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

Lawrence High second baseman Kalli McClure is one of several local softball players who have chosen to stick with rubber cleats instead of switching to metal cleats, now allowed by the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

April 9, 2008

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Last summer, the National Federation of State High School Associations made changes to an old rule, allowing high school softball players to wear metal cleats during the 2008 season.

So far, that change has not made much of a splash in Lawrence.

Among the 50 or so athletes who play softball at Lawrence High and Free State, just two have chosen to make the switch from rubber to steel. The biggest reason: better footing while running the bases and on defense.

"I prefer them over rubber cleats," Free State junior Madeline Wilson said. "They have better traction, and I feel like I can dig into the dirt better, especially when it's wet."

FSHS coach Pam Pine and LHS coach Reenie Stogsdill said they wore metal cleats during their playing days, and both said the metal spikes had some kind of impact on the game.

However, with the Kansas State High School Activities Association's constant push towards safety, both said they were surprised by the ruling because of the potential hazard metal cleats bring to the diamond.

"They do make a difference," Stogsdill said. "But I was shocked when I heard about it. It was a surprise because everything (KSHSAA does) is about being safe. I'm not against them allowing them at all, though."

No one on Stogsdill's varsity team wears steel cleats, but junior Mariah Vaughn, a junior varsity infielder, chose to get a pair when she was shopping for new shoes earlier this year.

"I needed new cleats, and I figured why not get them," Vaughn said. "I think they're more comfortable, and I haven't had a problem with them."

It's that kind of result the NFHS was banking on when it came time to change the rule.

"Metal cleats provide better traction for athletes on nearly all surfaces, including hard, wet or under-maintained fields," Cindy Simmons, chair of the NFHS Softball Rules Committee, in a news release. "They also help prevent slippage on the bases, especially home plate."

It might seem odd that the move to a more dangerous material actually was made with safety in mind. But KSHSAA's Francine Martin, an assistant executive director, said there were no statistical data out there that showed an increase in softball injuries when metal cleats were worn as opposed to rubber.

"We talked about it in our office, and we felt like (the NFHS's) rules committee and sports advisory committe had made a sound decision," Martin said. "We've had very little concern shown by high school coaches in Kansas about the decision."

Still, the possibility remains that introducing more metal on the bottoms of shoes will create dangerous situations. The most feared incident occurs when the girls go sliding into bases feet first.

"I would be mad if someone slid into me with them," said Lions second baseman Kalli McClure, who chose to stick with rubber cleats for her senior season. "And I didn't want to be the person that slid into somebody else with them either."

Overall, FSHS coach Pine said the idea behind the rule change was sound.

"They're trying to get the girls ready with everything for when they go play in college," she said. "I think it's probably not as dangerous as it would've been several years ago because we have better fields today. But you have to be a lot more aware when you're wearing a metal cleat. You can't just put them on and go play."

In order to increase awareness, KSHSAA has included a link on its Web site that offers advice and tips from college coaches about the proper use of metal cleats.

It's efforts like this, along with the knowledge and experience of the state's high school coaches, that has those at KSHSAA believing the move is good for Kansas athletes.

"No coach is allowed to require kids to wear them, but it is an option," Martin said. "Unless we see a tremendous amount of evidence or an increase in the concern for safety, I'd imagine the rule is going to stay this way for some time."

At this time, metal cleats still are not allowed in most summer leagues for softball playeres 18 and under.

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