By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 12/6/10
The president of the Pennsylvania Area Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association (PASLA) expressed happiness and relief last week when the New York safety committee voted down the motion to require the use of helmets in scholastic lacrosse for the Empire state.
The vote was held after the New York State Public High School Athletic Association safety committee made a motion in October to require the use of helmets for 2012. The motion sparked a nation-wise debate on the direction of the girls’/women’s game.
The state safety committee voted down the motion, 7-2. Each New York section had one vote. If the safety committee had voted in favor of helmets, state section representatives would have made the final vote.
Why did the safety committee make the motion? The safety committee reviewed recent injury data that was collected by the National Federation of High Schools Injury Surveillance Survey for girls’ lacrosse and the information collected by the state association from certified athletic trainers.
According to reports, the committee’s concern focused on the rising number of concussions and facial lacerations from checking. Girls are currently required to wear protective eye wear.
Across the country, girls’ lacrosse leaders have worried that the use of helmets would further move the girls’ game closer to the boys’ game.
The Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Association (IWLCA) was dead against the idea of helmets. US Lacrosse also issued statements against the use of helmets, while also noting that safety is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in the women’s game even before ESPN aired a special report this summer on two Pittsburgh girls that suffered concussions.
The PASLA president is Lorraine Beers, head coach at Philly power Archbishop Carroll and a coach for the Phantastix club team. Beers said that every coach she spoke to in the Philly area felt the move to helmets would be destructive to the girls’ game.
Last month a letter was posted on the PASLA website from a New York girls’ coach detailing how helmets would not help prevent problems with concussions and other injuries to the head and face.
“All of our coaches are against helmets,” Beers said. “I did not hear back from anyone that felt this would have been good for the game.”
Beers believes that adding protective gear to the girls’ game would only give players a license to be more physical. She explained that the push for safety is also important, but wonders about the consequences to the girls’ and women’s game.
“Women’s lacrosse is women’s lacrosse and it’s not the same as men’s lacrosse,” Beers said. “As we spread lacrosse around the country, some people think it’s the exact same game as the men’s game. They wear pads and helmets. We don’t want that in our game.”
Beers noted that all athletic activities are being scrutinized due to the media attention being placed on concussions, filtering down from the NFL to youth sports. Also, with the threat of lawsuits, leaders want to be more careful.
“By adding more equipment, there is a tradeoff,” Beers said. “The eyewear was added to save a catastrophic eye injury. But for whatever reason, since adding the eyewear, the game has become much more physical and aggressive than before we had eyewear.
“If we went to using helmets, it would exacerbate the issue. What fear would a girl have of running through six or eight players? And once we have helmets, would we have to have shoulder pads?”
Beers said another problem is that umpiring may not be as strong in other areas as it is in Philadelphia, prompting lacrosse officials to caution on the safe side.
“The officiating in Philly is wonderful and it always has been,” she said. “I believe our umpires do the proper training, but in some other areas you have people umpiring that have never played or seen the game.”
The IWLCA had issued this statement against the proposed helmet mandate just before the New York vote.
“It is with grave concern that the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Association (IWLCA) is issuing this position statement responding to the impending vote in New York State mandating NOCSAE-approved men’s lacrosse helmets with facemasks in women’s lacrosse.
Though same in name, women’s and men’s lacrosse are NOT the same sport. Since 1931, the women’s game distinguished itself as a unique sport with different rules, equipment, techniques and strategies.
“The women’s rules differ significantly from the men’s game, particularly regarding the level of permissible contact and physical play. The driving force behind the rules of women’s lacrosse has always been and continues to be player safety and upholding the game’s integrity.
“The women’s game abides by distinct rules to specifically promote player safety. On defense, these guidelines include the 3-second rule, the shooting space rule, automatic yellow cards for slashing and checks to the head, and checking rules prohibiting checks into the 7” sphere surrounding a player’s head.
“On offense, players receive automatic yellow cards for dangerous shots, dangerous propelling and dangerous follow throughs. These rules are not found in the men’s rulebook. Following these strict guidelines allow women to play a safer game not requiring helmets.”
Another major concern of the IWLCA is that implementing the helmet rule will have the reverse effect; actually RAISING contact levels and physical play. As a result, the game becomes more rather than less dangerous.
“We believe that helmets will lead to a disregard for safe play by players, officials, coaches, parents and spectators. We have the rules for a safe game in place, and as coaches of the women’s game, we are committed to teaching the game within the rules.
“We continuously educate fans and the general public regarding the strong differences in the men’s and women’s game. However, the mistaken belief still exists that we are the same.
“We strongly encourage the state of New York to protect our sport and respect the differences of women’s