By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 3/6/12
The Bullis School girls’ lacrosse team has voluntarily decided to wear rugby helmets for the 2012 season in an effort to provide added protection against concussions.
The Bulldogs, who open their season Tuesday at home vs. Paul VI (Va.) at 5:30 p.m., had nine players suffer concussions last year while playing lacrosse or another sport.
One of the players, senior attack Carley Sturges, began wearing the helmet last season after being out for several months due to a concussion sustained in a winter tournament and continued to wear the helmet in the summer and fall tournament season. One other Bullis player, Lauren Raffensperger, also wore the helmet last year after sustaining a concussion.
The custom-made, Navy blue helmets being used at Bullis are manufactured by Love Rugby Company of Centrevilla, Va. They meet current US Lacrosse guidelines as an accepted headgear because they are not a hard-surfaced helmet.
Officials from US Lacrosse and Bullis School wished to clarify that the helmets – nor any protective headgear – cannot prevent concussions. Bullis coach Kathleen Lloyd said the decision made by the school was simply made to help lessen the possibility of more head injuries.
Lloyd admitted that some girls were originally apprehensive about wearing the helmets. But school officials felt safety was the No. 1 priority and that the helmets would not impede vision or control.
“I told the girls you gain respect by how you play on the field, not what you look like,” said Lloyd. “We buy the kids the best equipment, why can’t we have the right to buy the best stuff to protect their head and teeth?
“When parents heard what we were doing, they said, ‘It’s a great idea to protect the kids I want my daughter to enjoy herself without having too much risk.’
“The helmets are going great. No problems. People are curious. The girls are definitely getting used to them and don’t even think about them anymore. We had our last indoor game (Sunday) and they put them on without even a reminder.
“They don’t mind being the only ones wearing them either. They said it kept their ears warm yesterday at the playday. I had several parents from other teams comment and say that they would like their daughters’ team to wear them. Some girls even feel more confident with them and not scared as much of getting hit.”
Ann Carpenetti, US Lacrosse Managing Director for Game Administration, said US Lacrosse has been working hard in recent years to create a standard for women’s headgear. When that occurs, it would then be determined if US Lacrosse would consider requiring women to wear protective headgear or recommending it on a voluntary basis.
The girls at Bullis are not the only ones wearing helmets. Around the nation, girls have voluntarily began to wear them as the issue of concussions continues to be a major topic in sports. Last year two players on Shoreham-Wading River on Long Island made the national headlines because they wore soft-padded headgear. One of the players, junior Alex Fehmel, has been wearing helmet since she began playing varsity in 9th grade on a team that won a state championship.
“For officials and consumers, there is no standard for women’s head gear at this time, but some are OK to wear,” Carpenetti said. ‘What we don’t want is folks taking football helmets and putting in bubble wrap and thinking that is OK.
Carpenetti again warned that soft headgear can only provide some protection, but not prevention for concussions. The best way to cut down on concussions is for officials to closely call fouls when stick to head and stick body contact occurs and for coaches to teach proper checking skills.
This year high school rules are stressing that no checks can be made toward the body. In the past few years, checks toward the body had been legal if they were deemed “under control.” Also, no checking can be made in the 7-inch sphere; before it was legal to check through and away from the sphere.
“We know sticks hitting heads are not the only way concussions occur,” said Carpenetti. “Though research shows that stick to head impact is the primary reason for concussions.”
Recently the results of a study published in “The American Journal of Sports Medicine” focused on over 500 games played in the Fairfax County Public School system in Falls Church, Va., during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. The study looked at 14 of the 25 head injuries that occurred in those games and determined that fouls were called only twice.
Carpenetti said there is a need for more women’s umpires and more training as well as more emphasis on coaching proper techniques in checking. She noted that the game continues to grow at a swift pace and that more new players, coaches and umpires are getting involved in more and more regions that are just beginning to grow.
“There should not be a card only when you see blood,” Carpenetti said.
Carpenetti also said US Lacrosse would be looking closely at how the helmets impact play for Bullis School games since umpires will have the rare occasion of referring with one team that is wearing the helmets and another team that is not.
“Do I think the officials will call it differently because of the presence of rugby helmets?” Carpenetti said in response to the same question. “Certainly there is a difference when an unhelmeted team sees a helmeted team.
“How that team behaves will be of interest. More important is that the officials have the same rules and they need to enforce the rules consistently.”
Lloyd said she is unsure of whether the helmets will help cut down on injuries, but believes her players will be safer.
“We don’t know how it’s going to,” Lloyd said of the presence of the helmet. “One of my players (last year) got a concussion when she got tangled up and fell and hit her heard on the ground. It wasn’t a stick (that caused it), but it was due to rough play.
“Would a rugby helmet deter that? I don’t know. Maybe it would not be as severe. Maybe, but we don’t know.”
Lloyd, who has coached in high school and for top club teams for 16 years, said she has changed her stance on the issue of safety.
“I used to come from the stance of, if we had helmets, it would make the game rougher,” she said. “But as I looked into this and I’ve watched the girls play with new rules, it shouldn’t change the game.”