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When baseball becomes deadly

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On Wednesday, March 25, Valdosta High freshman, Colton Shaw, was struck in the head by an errant throw while in the visitors' dugout during a junior varsity baseball game at Ike Aultman Field in Moultrie, Ga. He was quickly life-flighted to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital where he remained in critical condition and on life support the following Thursday morning, March 26. Around noon, the 14-year-old was taken off life support and passed away. Family, friends, coaches, athletes and communities throughout the area are devastated by the loss. Moreover, the tragedy has served as a wake-up call to many parents, school administrators and coaches who are concerned for the safety of their athletes. While most softball dugouts are completely fenced in, baseball dugouts are rarely protected; many of which are left open from the waist up, if that. Surprisingly, there has been much controversy over dugout fencing in the past-- even opposition. In March of 2014, the Middlesboro Daily News, of Kentucky, reported that the Bell County School Board met to discuss safety fencing in front of their schools' dugouts. According to the report, Supervisor Jeff Saylor, fought for dugout fencing despite opposition from coaches, stressing it was a liability issue. The news source stressed there wasn't only opposition from coaches, but from the National High School Federation, who are apparently reluctant to put out a mandate for fencing because there are so many schools without it, which causes a problem monetarily. Despite discussion about the possibility of using netting instead, Bell County School Board voted to place fencing in front of their dugouts. The question remains: why have school districts been so reluctant to approve, what seems, an “easy fix?”-- especially when it comes to protecting kids' lives. Due to this problem, 14-year-old Colton Shaw suffered fatal consequences. Luckily, Madison and Jefferson Counties are looking towards a solution. Upon hearing of the tragedy in Moultrie, Madison County High School Baseball Head Coach, Terry Barrs, was hit hard. The coach saw to it that his team attended the visitation of Colton Shaw, where they extended their deepest sympathies to the player's family, teammates and coaches. Shaw's death made a huge impact on the Cowboys and, according to Barrs, there is serious discussion about placing protective fencing in front of Madison's dugouts which, presently, remain unprotected. Barrs, among other coaches, asserted that his players' safety is nothing to play around with. The JV Cowboys donned Shaw's number on their helmets during their March 30 game against Hamilton-- both JV and Varsity players were affected by the tragedy and were adamant they show respect. MCHS isn't the only school making plans to install fencing. Aucilla Christian Academy's Head Baseball Coach, Thornton Davis, was devastated by the news. “I immediately sent an email to around 10 to 12 coaches in the area-- this tragedy was a wake-up call,” said Davis. “I addressed the dugout situation immediately and fencing has already been ordered.” Davis asserts that the fencing will be installed as soon as it arrives. “I can't even imagine it,” said Davis. “You pack your kid up to go to their baseball game and then never see them again. It isn't right.” Coach Davis constantly preaches to his team to pay attention to their surroundings while in the dugout, but he said simply asking teenagers to pay attention isn't enough. In order to avoid another devastation, Coach Davis is taking the necessary precautions at Aucilla. He hopes that other schools will join him. The Warriors were set to wear yellow ribbons in honor of Shaw to their next game, as of interview time. Jefferson County Middle High School is pondering the tragedy as well. JCMHS Athletic Director, Terry Walker, was greatly saddened by the circumstances. “I think safety on and off the baseball field should be our priority right now,” said Walker. “In addition to dugout fencing, I feel helmets should be worn throughout every game. Jefferson County Middle High School expresses our condolences to the Shaw family and Valdosta High School.” While there is much buzz about dugout fencing, will schools take action like Aucilla and Coach Davis, or will they simply make noise? Head Baseball Coach for Valdosta High School, Bart Shuman, issued the following statement: It has been a very tough time for the family of Colton Shaw, his Valdosta High baseball teammates, friends and coaches. Colton was a very special young man who will be greatly missed by all. I would like to recognize and thank Coach Terry Barrs and the Madison County baseball team for attending the visitation for Colton that was held at Valdosta High. Unfortunately, sometimes a tragedy like this can help us realize there are dangers in athletics that need to be addressed. Without a doubt, dugout protection is an area that needs to be improved. At Valdosta High we have already installed a 10 foot fence in front of our dugouts. I do hope that all schools and recreation facilities will take action to make sure this type of tragedy is prevented. Thanks again to your communities for all the thoughts and prayers.

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