NEWS9 Special Assignment: High Tech Helmets
WAYNESBURG, Pa. —
Concussions can cause major issues for athletes, but a football team not far from the Ohio Valley is doing what it can to keep on top of player safety.
"I think we used to try and push the kids back on the field. ‘Oh, you're fine, you're OK’ and they weren't," said Mackenzie Minci, MD/head of pediatric department at OVMC.
All sports carry certain risks of head injury, but in football, it's magnified, especially at the professional level.
Minci says that the microscope on head injuries has appeared to trickle down to the local gridiron.
"I'm seeing a lot more concussions in my clinic,” he said, “but I don't think there are more concussions. I think that the attention has just been brought to it. It makes it easier to treat it appropriately."
The Waynesburg University Yellow Jackets are using a new tool in the fight against head injury - high tech helmets.
Players are wearing Riddell Speedflex helmets with the insight training tool, which monitors concussions and player impact tendencies.
"It's a helmet that everybody really likes,” Waynesburg coach Chris Smithley said. “It feels good and it's a lighter helmet. Guys really like it. Putting the chips in them give us the ability to make sure they're safe and to coach them better."
Waynesburg's football team now has 36 of these helmets.
Each is connected to a wireless system that alerts coaches of serious impacts and dangerous trends.
The data can be reviewed on a computer or mobile device.
"Not only am I showing them in the analytics what's occurring, but I can pull it up on a screen and we can watch their technique,” Waynesburg trainer Andy Palko said. “There's been numerous instances this season where we've been able to catch poor technique early to deter these types of head injuries."
Minci says early detection is key.
Often players may not notice severe problems right after a head injury, or may not want to admit abnormalities, but serious issues can come later.
"You hear a lot about these football players, wrestlers, commonly, who become depressed,” Minci said. “We see people take their lives. We've seen people take their spouses' lives. Very odd behavior, for who these people were when they were young, later on in life. Sometimes, ten years, twenty years later. We see that a lot."
While there are obvious concussion symptoms, like headache, vomiting and blurry vision, Minci says other less obvious symptoms to look for include excessive sleeping, or lack of sleep, and a lack of concentration.
Ridell's insight training technology is just one way coaches are trying to get ahead of the game.
"The game of football is going toward a more data-driven game,” Palko said. “The culture is changing. This allows us at Waynesburg to be a cutting edge and adjust to that culture, specifically with head impacts."
These helmets aren't cheap.
A pack of 12 helmets with the insight feature is roughly $10,000.
So, what about schools in the Ohio Valley?
Some football players use Riddell Speedflex helmets, but as for the insight system, it may take some time for the optional technology make its way to local teams.
At the end of the day, safety comes first.
"That's the priority of any coach,” Smithley said. “You want your players to be safe and perform at the highest level. For us it's a pretty assuring tool that we've had here."
As for the Yellow Jackets, the coaches plan to buy more helmets in the future to fully equip the team within the next few years.