WEST HAVEN >> In an era where concussions have become almost as scary as having certain diseases and CTE (chronic, traumatic encephalopathy) has become synonymous with the NFL, player safety is a primary concern to football coaches at all levels.
For Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference alone, practice involving contact has been restricted, none to occur for teams that qualify for the postseason. The regular season has been cut from 11 weeks to 10. And all student-athletes must have a parent sign a consent form detailing the impact of concussions.
Several manufacturers continue to try and find ways to develop safer, more protective football helmets. A few area CIAC schools have purchased Riddell’s InSite Impact Response System to provide another way to quickly identify potential concussions.
The company Riddell, which designs and develops football helmets and other protective sports equipment, calls itself a “a recognized leader in helmet technology and innovation.” This five-zone sensor pad installed into the liner of the helmet measures the severity of impact to the helmet.
“This is huge. I’m excited to see how it goes,” said John Warrick, the athletic trainer at Notre Dame-West Haven. “If this proves to be effective, the sky’s the limit This is going to be a great help.”
Notre Dame-West Haven was the first CIAC school to use it this season. Notre Dame-Fairfield, Cheshire and New London are the only others, according to Erin Griffin, the vice president of marketing and communications at Riddell.
If a player wearing the sensor pad gets into a head-to-head collision that exceeds the set threshold, an alert monitor will be sent to a hand-held gadget, normally held by the trainer. That person would then check the player out during the game or practice and, if necessary, sit the player if it is indeed a concussion.
“We don’t risk playing anyone who complains of a headache,” Notre Dame-West Haven coach Tom Marcucci said. “This gives us another tool on the sideline for a hit someone may not have seen. Our trainer is vigilant on that (detecting possible head injuries) and our coaches are vigilant on it. Hopefully, this is another tool to keep kids safe.”
Even if it’s at practice, where multiple teams are using school facilities, if the trainer is at a neighboring practice and the alert goes off, as long as he or she is within a 50-yard radius, he or she will get the alert immediately, according to Griffin. Even if the trainer were to leave that radius on an errand, the alert monitor would register once returning inside that radius. Then he or she would see the number of the player to check at the practice upon return.
InSite measures the location, duration and linear acceleration of the hit at impact. Upon the initial diagnosis, then the concussion protocol is used.
Also, InSite allows trainers to keep records of each alert monitor registered. Whether it ends up being an actual concussion or not, it helps to keep accurate files on players documented with more than one concussion or just a blow to the head, as well as how much force each hit was and where specifically did the hit occur.
“So it gives you an extra set of eyes. It’s basically telling you, ‘Evaluate this kid,’” Warrick said. “Even before diagnosing a possible concussion, it (the alert monitor) is saying, ‘That’s a red flag, check him out.’ It may not be a concussion.”
Notre Dame is using the sensor pad in 12 helmets this season. Griffin said the cost for the InSite is $150, not including the helmet. Schools can save some money by purchasing the InSite in bulk.
“While usage is at the discretion of the schools, we’ve see programs purchase InSite for select players or schools purchase for the whole team,” Griffin said. “We’ve also seen programs utilize creative ways to fund the InSite purchase through grant money, boosters, parent contributions, risk management funds, etc.”
Now in its third full football season, approximately 600 programs youths through college, and 17,000 players currently use the InSite product, according to Griffin. The top five states that use InSite are California, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington.
“We want the technology to continue to support the programs proactive protection of their student athletes and also provide additional valuable information that can help coaching staffs work with players who may be utilizing poor tackling technique and help re-teach them.”