Cannon's Corner: While you’re fixing one dangerous situation ...
by JOE CANNON Banner Assistant Sports Editor
May 18, 2014 | 397 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After being ruled “structurally unsafe,” the nearly half-century old Raider Dome will come tumbling down this summer as Cleveland High School prepares for the construction of a new gymnasium.

While concerns over the building’s stability had been questioned after cracks began to appear in the masonry walls, a complete structural analysis was ordered last fall and the Cleveland City School Board voted to close the facility in early December, meaning the annual MurMaid Classic Thanksgiving Basketball Tournament was the final competition held in the facility that was opened in 1965.

All Cleveland High home basketball games from that point on were played at either Lee University’s Walker Arena or at Cleveland Middle School. The same will be true for the winter season this year as well, with a new gym projected to open in December of 2015.

The closing of the iconic home of the Blue and Lady Raider hoop squads is a bit inconvenient, but the move is without a doubt necessary for the safety of the students, athletes, faculty and fans. No one wants to be in a building that can potentially fall due to high winds or a heavy snowfall.

While I applaud the swift and decisive action to correct this potential hazard, I would like to point out another dangerous situation that lies just a few hundred feet west of the Raider Dome. It also needs some immediate attention.

While covering the District 5-AAA Fast-Pitch Softball Tournament recently at CHS’s Brenda McKenzie Lawson Field, I was quickly reminded of the fact the dugout facilities are completely open, with no protective fencing of any kind.

During the four-day event, I witnessed foul balls rocket into the dugouts on numerous occasions, with one player being struck in the head after the ball ricocheted off the block walls.

I immediately thought of former Ooltewah standout pitcher Garrett Baugh, whose high school career was cut short when he received two skull fractures and a severe concussion after being hit by a foul ball in 2010 during a baseball game at A.C. “Bud” Ball Field.

Thankfully, after spending some time in the Intensive Care Unit at Erlanger, he was able to make a full recovery. He has been able to play for Tennessee Tech the past four years, although an unrelated injury caused him to red-shirt this past season.

Others players at the recent district tournament at CHS took shots off their legs and bodies despite several wearing their gloves while out of the field of play for personal protection.

I myself am among the walking wounded after the event, having been nailed on my left ankle by a lighting fast foul ball into the third-base dugout in the next-to-last inning of the final championship game.

Although the “Feisty Fillies” reserves were trying their best to protect themselves and me, Soddy-Daisy’s biggest hitter got around early on a pitch and pulled it into the far end of the dugout where I was sitting while taking pictures and covering the game.

I heard the loud ping of the ball hitting the metal bat and saw the ball coming at me, but had no time to get out of the way. It zeroed in and nailed me right on the ankle knob on the inside of my left foot.

Despite excruciating pain, I was able to tough out the final inning and hobble out of the dugout to take a team picture and interview the coach. While waiting for the coach to talk to her players, I got the CHS athletic trainer to give me a bag of ice to put on the quickly swelling ankle.

Since I could walk on it, I figured I didn’t break anything and x-rays later confirmed that. I was lucky to not have any cracks or stress fractures in the bone, but a very deep contusion. I am currently ordered to wear a walking boot for the next three weeks and was given medicine to reduce the swelling.

I’ve played (many years as a pitcher), coached and umpired softball for five decades and had my share of injuries, but those all came in the course of participating in the game. This is my first injury “covering” a sport, although I’ve been in the line of fire thousands of times.

My sports department cohort, Saralyn Norkus, told me the situation was the same for the Lady Mustangs when they traveled to Cookeville earlier this week for a Region 3-AAA semifinal game, where the “open” dugout proved dangerous for some of the Walker Valley players, who were hit by foul balls.

Saralyn, a tough Detroit ice hockey fan, admitted to being worried about her safety.

It’s very usual to find softball or baseball facilities that are still completely open. Most baseball fields have at least a half net or block wall, offering the players and coaches some protection.

The vast majority of softball dugouts, which are closer to home plate than the ones in baseball due to the shorter baselines (60 feet compared to 90 for baseball), have a full net or fence with openings on both ends for players and coaches to exit and enter. And yes, I’ve seen some foul balls make their way through those openings, but I’ve also witnessed many more bounce off the protective fencing or netting.

In talking with Cleveland coach Connie Stobert, she informed me she has been requesting funds to close in the dugouts since taking over the program four years ago, but none have been approved yet.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the CHS facilties very much. The field is well kept, looks great and is a great place to hold games, but the days of unprotected dugouts should be past. Hopefully if the school athletic budget doesn’t allow for the dangerous situation to be corrected, maybe a local benefactor or a special fundraising project by the booster club could address the problem before someone gets seriously hurt.

While I’m ready to put my money where my mouth (or writing) is, my very limited bank account prevents me from being able to foot the bill myself. I’d be willing to contributed a few dollars to the cause, but my $20 bill would have to be added to many others to get the job done.