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IVA — Concussions and head trauma are two of a parent's biggest concerns when their child plays football. For Trent Center, that became a reality last season with his son, Sam, a linebacker on the Crescent High football team.
"He had a concussion last year, and it worried me with him getting back into the game," said Center, who also is the Crescent High School Booster Club president. "My son is a brainer, he wants to go to school for his brains. That brain is a commodity for him."
At Crescent, the football program is taking steps to better monitor its athletes. When the Tigers open their season Friday night at McCormick, the players will sport new speedflex helmets from Riddell. They may not look much different, but there is a big change beneath the black matte shells.
Hugging the inside lining of the helmet with a matchbook-size device at its center, the Insite Training Tool monitors impacts to the head and sends data from those collisions to coaches and athletic trainers.
Justin Kenny, communications manager for Riddell, said the system gives real-time updates, allowing staff to know when a particular player has experienced a major head impact.
"It is a tool that offers a better training and practice opportunity to coaches," Kenny said. "The system reviews impact data and allows coaches to reduce unnecessary impact during practice."
He added the helmets do not prevent concussions but are a tool to help coaches and athletic trainers better monitor head impacts.
Crescent got the helmets after the Anderson District 3 board of trustees voted unanimously to approve money from the penny-sales tax fund during its April 16 meeting. The district purchased 70 helmets for $30,000, an average of $428.57 per helmet.
The helmet costs about $400 individually, according to Riddell's website, while the Insite system costs an extra $150 per player. Through a bulk order, Crescent was able to save an estimated $8,500.
Crescent also received 30 sets of shoulder pads in the deal, worth around $300 apiece, according to Riddell's website.
"We found out they were buying the helmets about three months ago," Center said. "My first thought was any kind of technology they can pull in to make these kids safer (I'm for it). I am really impressed with the helmets."
Coach Sheldon Evans said he and his staff already have seen the benefits of the program since debuting them at spring practice.
Along with the helmets' allowing the staff to monitor head impacts, Evans said the data also can reveal which players need extra coaching.
"We can look at data player-by-player. Say if a running back continues to take 80 percent of high-level magnitude hits (on the top of his head) we need to look at that. It means he is lowering his head," Evans said.
"If we see one or two players who have a much higher impact, that is a sign we need to get with them and work on their tackling or blocking."
Evans also recalled an instance where the data showed his offensive linemen were using correct form.
"It was saying we had a lot of front impacts. I thought it meant our offensive linemen were coming off the ball with their heads down. It turned out the sensor was picking up impacts from their facemasks, meaning their heads were up, which is what you want," he said.
"In the end, it helps us do our job better, and helps us teach better fundamentals to keep the players safe."
After the Tigers got some scrimmage experience, Evans said the coaching appears to be paying off, according to data collected.
"We have not had any major head impacts," he said.
Mason Johnson, a senior receiver, said he prefers the new helmets over the ones the team had previously.
"They feel more molded to my head and are more comfortable. Everyone on the team likes them," Johnson said.
He added he feels safer playing with the extra monitoring the helmets give.
"It really helps a lot. Not just as protection but training," Johnson said. "It has been a good experience."
Athletic trainer Chelsea Pounds, who works with Crescent High School and contracted out through Playsafe, says the system aids her job as well.
"Everyone has their toolbox that makes their job better. This is getting an advanced version of things I already have. This adds another thing, a more advanced thing," Pounds said.
Pounds said the notification is sent to a device the size of a smart phone that she keeps with her.
"On the sidelines it is good because I can't see everyone, or for kids who don't come to me because they don't think anything is wrong," she said. "It is more of a tool, instead of a yes or no decision on if a player has a concussion."
Each player wears a specific helmet that corresponds to their name in the system. The system tracks hits, and an alert is sent when impacts meet or exceed a 95 percent threshold.
"When we get back to the school, if we want to look more in depth, we can look more in depth," Pounds said. "This system is worth the money. It has helped us teach the kids better, regardless of what it does for concussions."
According to Playsafe, Crescent is the only Anderson County school affiliated with its Insite system.
Center said with all that is in place at Crescent, he is a little more at ease as he watches his son.
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