Westville's Lesko recovering from scary injury
Change in athletic arenas can occur, literally, overnight.
At 4:30 p.m. last Monday, Westville High School softball coach Shawn Skinner had no formal policy on position players wearing masks while playing the infield.
By the dawn of a new day, it was a requirement.
All it took was an eye-opening scene that, for a time, closed the left eye of freshman Tigers pitcher Kylie Lesko.
The right-hander delivered a 3-ball, 2-strike pitch on Monday to Schlarman's Elizabeth Hawkins, who drilled the ball back up the middle.
Lesko saw it, "coming straight at my face," she said. "I swung my glove up but barely missed it."
The ball struck her squarely on the left eye orbital. She was transported by ambulance to a hospital and within 24 hours had been seen by doctors in both Danville and Champaign.
The news, Skinner said, was "a miracle."
As the veteran coach saw Lesko lying on the infield, screaming in pain, he couldn't help but think the worst.
"I was concerned there could be damage internally," he said. "The biggest thing I thought was, 'Don't let there be eyesight loss.' "
The bones surrounding Lesko's eye were fractured, but there's no damage to the retina.
Pending a followup appointment scheduled for Wednesday, when swelling is expected to be reduced, surgery does not look likely and Lesko is not expected to have eyesight loss.
Through Monday, masks for infielders were a matter of choice at Westville.
"They always had that option," Skinner said, "but I have never openly been a proponent for it. From what I've seen, players with masks on turn their heads more than players who don't have them.
"I've never openly promoted it, but I am now."
For Schlarman coach Randy Skaggs, the incident with Lesko is more ammunition for him to present to the IHSA.
"Two years ago I brought it up with the IHSA (softball) advisory committee," he said.
Skaggs, too, became a staunch believer following a first-hand injury.
"Five years ago on my summer team, Angelina Ritter (from Oakwood) was hit by a line drive and it fractured her cheekbone," Skaggs said. "Ever since them, we've gone mandatory for my high school and summer teams for the pitcher, first baseman and third baseman.
"If you don't have them, you don't play."
Several years ago, a ball rocketed back to Schlarman pitcher Kylie West so quickly she couldn't react in time.
"She was hit in the mask, and it knocked it off of her," Skaggs said, "but she recovered and threw the girl out at first."
One of the ironies for Lesko is that she had a mask and tried it briefly with the Illiana Heat travel team last summer.
"I never kept it on," Lesko said. "It bothered me. When I'd look at the (catcher's) glove, there'd be a bar staring at me. I felt like it messed up my pitching."
In retrospect, she regrets not learning to cope with the mask.
"Now I wish I had kept it on," she said.
Her mother, Nikki Lesko, will see to it.
"If she'll continue (in softball), she'll have to figure something out," Nikki Lesko said. "I would definitely push for everyone on the infield to have them."
Though Kylie Lesko might not get cleared in time to rejoin the Tigers this season — regionals start Monday with a 4:30 p.m. home game against St. Thomas More — she plans to resume her career in the summer with the Vermilion County Chaos.
"It's my favorite thing to do and, no matter what, I'll still play softball," she said. "I'll be all right."
Besides her family, friends, teammates and the Westville coaches, Skaggs was another of the visitors during Kylie Lesko's hospital stay on Monday.
"The sportsmanship was amazing," Nikki Lesko said.
"I was happy that they were concerned," Kylie Lesko said.
Though Skaggs is competitive and strives to win, once a game is finished — or suspended, as was the case of the Westville-Schlarman game — he said there's a different perspective to maintain.
"As you get older, things change and you're more concerned with those kids and their well-being," he said.
Nikki Lesko is thankful how things have worked out.
"Everything is remarkable," she said. "I know she was shaken up, but if her head had been turned the other way, it could have been worse."
While Lesko was feeling the pain, Schlarman's Hawkins was hurting, too.
"No doubt, she was shaken up," Skaggs said, "thinking it was her fault. I told her it was part of the game."
Both Skaggs and Skinner were pleased the umpires immediately suspended the game.
"Nobody was mentally or emotionally ready to resume," Skinner said.
Hawkins hasn't personally talked with Lesko since the incident six days ago, but she asked Skaggs to convey a message, "that I didn't mean to hit her," she said.
Skaggs' hopes incidents such as Monday's will be less likely to be part of future games.
"I don't want to see kids continue to get hurt when we can do something about it," he said.