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Little League Takes Part in Equipment Study

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (Feb. 5, 2003) - An article in the current issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) cites a study of data provided by Little League Baseball, suggesting that the use of softer baseballs and faceguards on helmets may reduce injuries.

The study was conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C. Funding for the research was provided by Major League Baseball through a grant to USA Baseball.

“Little League Baseball was honored to have participated in this study,” said Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball. “We will be reviewing the results of the study in the coming months, both here at Little League International and at local Little League programs around the world.”

Stephen W. Marshall, Ph.D., and colleagues evaluated the use of faceguards and safety balls for preventing injury in youth baseball. This study used a national database of compensated insurance claims maintained by Little League, combined with data on the number of participants in Little League and data from a census of protective equipment usage for youth aged 5 to 18 years participating in Little League Baseball in the United States during 1997-1999. The study was co-authored by Dan Kirby, director of risk management for Little League Baseball.

A total of 4,233 compensated injury claims were available for analysis, with 1,890 for ball-related injuries. The absolute incidence of compensated injury was 28 per 100,000 player-seasons for ball-related injury and 2.7 per 100,000 player seasons for facial injury. 

"The use of safety balls was associated with a 23 percent reduced risk of ball-related injury, and faceguards with a 35 percent reduced risk of facial injury. Reduced impact balls appeared to be the most effective type of safety ball (28 percent reduction). There was no compelling evidence of any difference between plastic and metal faceguards," the researchers write. Safety balls appeared to be more effective in the minor division (ages 7-12 years) than in the regular division (ages 9-12 years).

Currently, the use of faceguards and softer baseballs is optional in all levels of Little League Baseball. 

“We will be making information in the study available to our local league volunteers so that they can make informed decisions about optional safety equipment,” Mr. Keener said.

Little League Baseball is the world’s largest organized youth sports program, with nearly 2.8 million boys and girls ages 5-18 participating in every U.S. state and more than 100 other countries.