By Mark Ambrogi
As a former football player, Traders Point Christian Academy coach Kyle Johnson knows how tempting it might be to stay in a game despite a headache from a hard hit.
“We’re all stupid when we’re young and not thinking what it’s going to be like when we’re in our 50s,” said Johnson, who played at Mt. Vernon High School and Olivet Nazarene University. “I didn’t want to come out of the game if I had a headache or my head was throbbing. I would have wanted to play, because I worked hard to earn that spot, as silly as it is. Sports guys talk about protecting us from ourselves, there’s some truth to that.”
Taking the pressure off players to make the call, TPCA players are wearing new state-of-the-art Riddell helmets with sensor pads.
Johnson, in his third year at the Whitestown high school, said the helmets arrived late in the summer, just in time for two-a-day practices. The helmets cost about twice as much as the regular helmets at a little more than $400, he said. They have not given off any alerts so far.
“When they test marketed them, they collected data on 1.8 million hits,” Johnson said. “The sensors are all around the helmet. If a hit in one of those two areas in the top 1 or 2 percent for impact reading, it sends an alert.”
In practice, a coach has the remote control and at games a trainer has it.
“It buzzes like you are waiting for a table at Outback Steakhouse,” Johnson said.
The alert reveals which player’s helmet is affected. Johnson said a concussion protocol is started just like it would if a coach noticed a player was slow getting up after a hard hit.
“Even if the kid said ‘Leave me alone, I’m fine,’ he’s checked,” Johnson said. “Been a coach for many years, I’ve had kids tell me that and later we find they had a concussion.”
TPCA has just 18 players, so the school has 21 helmets with the parents helping to pay a good share of the cost.
Johnson’s son Jacob is a junior quarterback and strong safety.
Jacob said the helmet is a good safety valve.
“They’re very comfortable, I don’t even think about having a helmet on my head, I go ahead and play,” Jacob said.
Jacob said he is telling others he knows about the benefits of the helmet.
St.Vincent Sports provides athletic trainers for TPCA football practices and games.
“It’s not a magic bullet, but it is another potential tool,” stated St.Vincent’s Dave Weikel, also a head athletic trainer for USA Football. “It can help us and be another set of eyes on the field. We will evaluate the athlete and if there is even a chance a concussion is suspected, they will have to be cleared by a physician.”
TPCA athletic director Adam Stevenson said the helmets are a positive step. Safer tackling techniques can help, too.
“There are so many people passionate about the sport that if we need to change how it is played to make it safer we are going to do whatever we can,” he said.