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Naples Daily News (Florida)
Last year the Estero High School girls lacrosse team had to play half its season without one of its senior captains who suffered a concussion after being inadvertently struck in the forehead with a stick.
If a Wildcats player takes such a blow to the head this season, she might not have to miss any playing time. That's the hope of the Florida High School Athletic Association, which this season became the first state association to require girls lacrosse players to wear helmets.
The past three seasons the FHSAA has required girls lacrosse players to wear headgear that wraps around the side of the head and covers the eyes. The new helmets encompass the entire head with hard plastic.
"(Players) are getting bigger, faster and stronger," Estero coach John Hulbert said. "There are rules to protect them, but you still have an inadvertent still come up and whack girls in the head. The helmets protect them against those."
There are two schools of thought on the helmets, which must comply with ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) standard F3137 used by US Lacrosse. While some coaches think they prevent injuries, others think the helmets could cause more by enticing players to be more aggressive.
"I'm afraid they'll give a false sense of safety," said Frank Adiutori, entering his 10th season as head coach at Naples High School. "When there's a groundball, players might run recklessly from opposite directions and crash heads."
Adiutori doesn't see the helmets preventing concussions, which happen when the brain is shaken inside the skull. The Golden Eagles coach said hard contact to the head, either from a stick or ball or falling to the ground still will lead to a concussion. NFL players, for example, get concussions despite the thickest helmets in any sport.
However, Adiutori is willing to give the new equipment a chance.
"I'm sure they'll keep stats, and if we see less concussions then I'm wrong and it's the right thing," Adiutori said. "If I'm right and there are more concussions, then maybe they'll decide to get rid of the helmets and go back to playing with (headgear)."
Lacrosse players around the state have spent the first few weeks of practice getting used to the helmets. But first, athletic departments had to find the resources to purchase them.
The Cascade LX helmet many teams, including Estero and Naples, are using cost $150 each. That's before painting or decals. Players at all levels — varsity, junior varsity and freshman — must wear the helmets, meaning some schools could have to purchase 50 or more.
The helmets are one-size-fits-all and fit snugly on some players. Adiutori and Hulbert said their players complained of headaches after the first week wearing them.
"You have to get in and stretch (the inside of the helmet) by hand," Hulbert said. "I've played hockey all my life, so wearing a helmet doesn't bother me. But for a first-time helmet wearer, it's an adjustment."
Though the helmets are new, girls lacrosse still has rules to make it different from the boys' game. Boys lacrosse has more contact, and players wear shoulder pads in addition to sturdier helmets.
Girls players are not allowed to stand in front of a shot to block it, and there is a dangerous propel rule to prevent offensive players from taking shots that could hit an opponent. Players also cannot swing their sticks near anyone's head.
Whether or not the new helmets cut down on injuries, coaches will have to wait until the end of the year to see.
"It's still too early to be able to tell," Hulbert said.
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