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Copyright 2013 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.

Dayton Daily News (Ohio)
September 22, 2013 Sunday
780 words
Elks buy into new protective helmet aid;
All of Centerville's football teams have adopted new caps.
By Marc Pendleton

Athletic trainer Sarah Orr inflates Centerville High School player Michael Lunsford's Guardian Cap. The school debuted the device last Monday, and the district is the first in the area to use the protective cover. MICHAEL FRANZ / STAFF

Last season was a good year to be a peewee, high school or college football player. Nationwide, none of those players died from helmet-to-helmet collisions.

That's according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. However, the years from 1931 to 2011 weren't so good. The center found that at least 678 high school players died as result of or complications from helmet-to-helmet contact.

Those are the sobering numbers for a sport that prides itself on toughness and repeated high-impact, ESPN-worthy wallops. From kindergarten-age peewees to Heisman Trophy candidates, all are subject to much more head trauma than other sports.

The long-term football-related concussion fallout can be catastrophic. The Sports Concussion Institute in Atlanta and California estimates that NFL players on average absorb 900-1,500 head blows during a season. Just last month, the NFL agreed to a $765 million settlement with more than 4,500 former players who sued the league for essentially concealing the effects of concussions.

Centerville High School has taken a proactive step in addressing the risk of football-related concussions. Responding to a suggestion by parents of varsity players, the school has purchased 240 Guardian Caps - lightweight, protective clip-on helmet covers. Its creators estimate a G-force reduction of 33 percent in hits to the head.

All of Centerville's football teams - from seventh grade through seniors - began wearing the caps in practice last week. The Elks are the only high school team in Southwest Ohio to wear the protective helmet gear.

"The bottom line is, we were 100 percent aware that there's no way to prevent a concussion," Centerville athletic director Rob Dement said. "That's not what we're looking to do. ... If you can wear something that minimizes those hits, that's what we're trying to do - provide that extra layer of safety."

Concussion recognition and prevention are relatively new football terms. The Ohio High School Athletic Association requires that teams must file a report within 48 hours of a player who has exhibited concussion symptoms.

Depending on the test results, players can be held out of practice and/ or games until fully recovered as determined by a doctor.

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment has weighed in on new products such as the Guardian Cap. It has determined that a certified helmet model is changed with an add-on such as a skull cap.

The NOCSAE has declared that when anything is added to a helmet, its original certification is voided.

The third party, such as the Guardian Cap, takes over as "original helmet manufacturer regarding certification testing, quality control and quality assurance and licensure with NOCSAE."

Football teams throughout the country are buying in. Guardian Cap national sales director Matt Simonds said 8,000 were sold the first year it was offered in 2012. He estimated more than 20,000 have been sold this year.

Like Centerville, Clemson, South Carolina, Toledo and Akron universities all wear the Guardian Caps on contact practice days. Simonds estimated that 45 percent of his business is with high schools, 40 percent with youth and 15 percent with colleges. The NFL is not being targeted.

A soft-cover gel hybrid, the Guardian Cap is produced in Alpharetta, Ga. Its creator is Lee Hanson, who owns a material engineering firm there. The cap was born out of years of creating impact-reducing materials for playgrounds, flooring, even the military.

A single cap sells for $55. Its durability depends on a player's height and weight, number of impacts and his position. It's lightweight, just 6.5 ounces and one-eighth of an inch thick.

It clips to the front face guard and is secured on the helmet back by Velcro. There are 37 individual square pockets that give it a wa?e-iron look.

"We've heard turtle shell, too," Simonds said. "There's a lot of different (slang) names for it."

It meets all the same manufacturing testing requirements that any popular helmet brand such as Riddell must pass.

It has not passed the initial goofiness factor. It's new, it's odd looking and players aren't used to it. But the break-in period is brief.

"We've heard from a lot of kids that it feels better when they hit," Hanson said.

"For the most part, the kids are swinging around to our side after they've used it and hit with it for a few days."

Contact this reporter at 937-225-2381 or email [email protected]

September 22, 2013


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