Softball coach in wheelchair allowed to pitch again after being forced to stop

A softball coach in Ashford, Alabama, who was asked to leave the field of play because he was in a wheelchair has earned a victory after fighting for his rights. (Source: WTVY)
Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 11:05 AM CDT
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ASHFORD, Ala. (WTVY/Gray News) – After being removed from the field of play by Dixie Softball, a softball coach in a wheelchair from Alabama is now allowed back on the field.

“I had some butterflies coming in throwing a pitch again,” Coach Chase Carnley said.

Carnley became a wheelchair user six years ago after a car accident. He coached baseball for several years and just began coaching softball this year in a coach-pitch league.

After Dixie Softball received a complaint, Carnley was asked to watch his team from the dugout for the safety of the players.

Dixie Softball President Obie Evans said there is no specific rule that prohibits a coach in a wheelchair from being on the pitcher’s mound but urged safety is of the utmost importance in the league.

After hearing about his story, Carnley was approached by legal counsel.

Attorney Jessica Givens said she contacted Dixie Softball with a formal complaint regarding violations of the American Disabilities Act, “using that as a pushing off point, saying, ‘You could avoid a lot of headaches if you just do the right thing.’ Fortunately for everybody involved, that’s exactly what happened.”

Givens said the attorney representing Dixie Softball reached back out to her with a set of rules that would be implemented to accommodate Carnley and all other coaches with wheelchairs throughout all 10 states in which Dixie Softball operates.

Carnley was told he would be allowed back on the field just hours before his team’s Monday evening matchup in Headland.

“That was the best time I’ve ever had against Headland because that was a team we never played, and it was so fun with Coach Chase,” said Kaghan Burkett, one of the girls on Carnley’s team.

The team woke up offensively, scoring seven runs and ending the game with the winning run on first base after being shut out in their first game without Carnley pitching.

“It was tremendous to have him back out there for us tonight,” said Todd Norris, another coach alongside Carnley. “These girls love hitting off the pitches Coach Chase puts out there. He does a really good job, and we’re really glad he’s back out there.”

Carnley fought for his own rights but also set the precedent for future coaches in wheelchairs.

“He further enriches the community by participating in this with all the girls seeing his dedication, not only to them, but to making sure his rights aren’t violated,” Givens said.

Though they did not win, according to the scoreboard, getting their coach back may be their biggest win of the season.

“It’s all about making them happy,” Carnley said. “If I can make them happy by being their pitcher, I’ll pitch out there and do the best of my ability.”

Dixie Softball has now implemented the following rules:

  • There will be a 6-foot radius circle drawn at the 30-feet mark where the wheelchair will be placed in the center of the circle from which the wheelchair-bound coach-pitcher will pitch. The wheelchair MUST remain in the center of the circle.
  • The hard part of the wheelchair must be padded to reduce the injury factor to the players.
  • The wheelchair MUST have the type of wheels on it that will not cause damage to the playing surface of the ball field.
  • In order to try and keep a defensive player as safe as possible, the following rules will apply:
    • Any hit ball that hits the wheelchair shall be ruled as a dead ball.
    • Any hit ball that hits the person of the coach-pitcher will be ruled a dead ball.
    • Any ball, including a line drive, hit in the air, and is caught by the coach-pitcher shall be ruled as an out, and no base runners can advance.
    • A hit fly ball (pop up), that in the umpire’s judgment, would come down inside the 6-foot radius circle area shall be ruled an out, and no base runners can advance.

NOTE: Dixie Softball feels that it will be safer for the players if the coach-pitcher stays put inside and at the center of the circle during a play. This way the players will know where the wheelchair is at all times.