Puffy helmets make life safer for young athletes
The news, as I recall it, didn't create stop-and-take-notice headlines throughout Illinois.
State legislators this summer made it law that virtually all schools where sports are played have concussion protocols to determine when injured athletes can safely resume their sports as well as return to the classroom. By next school year, schools also must form concussion oversight teams that include coaches, athletic trainers, game officials, nurses, teachers and administrators.
This news, though, did make Madhu Krishnamurthy take notice. As the reporter who covers the biggest school district (Elgin Area School District U-46) in the suburbs, she wondered about the impact the new rules would have on the prep football scene. She also knew concussions and concussion protocol have been an issue in the National Football league the past few years.
It didn't take her long to find just how big a deal it's become, after reading a story in FRONTLINE pointing out that 87 of 91 former NFL players examined after their deaths tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease believed to stem from repetitive blows to the head, and a condition that can cause memory loss, depression and dementia.
The numbers were startling, so pursuing this as a closer-to-home topic seemed natural. "I thought it would be interesting to see what kind of changes schools will have to make to comply," Madhu said.
The result was the Page 1 centerpiece story in Friday's paper. The good news there is Madhu discovered several school districts that were going above and beyond minimal compliance with the new concussion law.
A striking example was the St. Edward Central Catholic High School football team. During practices for the past three years, players have worn something called Guardian Caps: puffy, padded sections of material that form a layer of insulation on the outside of the helmet. They presumably soften the impact of helmet-to-helmet contact. Mike Rolando, coach of the Elgin school's team, has noticed a big difference. He told Madhu he's witnessed perhaps one concussion each of the past three practice seasons, compared to as many as five to seven each year previously.
Yes, the camouflage coverings might look a bit odd, but, boy, why wouldn't you want to use these things not just at practice, but also during games?
That, it seems, is where some bureaucracy comes into play. The Guardian Caps are considered a modification to a helmet, and, as such, are deemed ineligible for use in games, according to IHSA rules. The St. Edward coach's observations on their effectiveness seems to be anecdotal, and the group that writes the rules for interscholastic sports, the National Federation of State High School Associations, would need some scientific evidence that the Guardian Caps can reduce concussions. If it's there, "the federation would look hard at approving that," Kurt Gibson, IHSA associate executive director, told Madhu.
Maybe it's just one small thing, among many, many options no doubt under discussion, but wouldn't something like that be yet another step in the right direction?
Just a thought.
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