By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 4/9/12
As the new lacrosse season heats up, Long Island’s Shoreham-Wading River (N.Y.) junior Alex Fehmel collects her gear: a stick, mouth-guard, goggles and a blue, custom-made helmet.
Fehmel, a standout midfielder for the 3-0 Wildcats, has been wearing the specially-designed soft-shell helmet since her freshman year when she helped the Wildcats claim a Class C state championship.
The use of helmets in girls’ lacrosse has been a much talked-about subject in recent years. This year in Potomac Md., the Bullis School made national headlines when it mandated that all girls on the varsity and JV teams will wear rugby helmets due to an excessive amount of concussions sustained in the 2011 season. (See story on Bullis School’s decision).
As a result of the increased number of concussions and the increased media attention concussions have received at the high school, college and pro levels, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a new law last summer that will increase protections for student-athletes who suffer concussions, a decision supported by Long Island legislators.
The law requires any student who is believed to have suffered a concussion to be immediately removed from athletic activities and banned from returning until he or she is symptom-free for at least 24 hours and cleared by a physician.
Officials from US Lacrosse wished to clarify that helmets or any protective headgear cannot prevent concussions.
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, US Lacrosse could recommend or endorse protective headgear for some or all female players.
Fehmel first suffered the concussion during an 8th grade game. She found that she was unable to play at her normal level without it.
“I lost consciousness,’ she said the first concussion “I took a charge and the girl landed on me and my head slammed against the ground pretty bad.
“I couldn’t play for a while and had to stay home and wear sunglasses. Any noises gave me a headache.”
It was after Fehmel took a stick to the head in a game that her father, Chris, decided she needed the protection of a helmet. He asked his friend, Gary Hanson, who had made professional hockey goalie masks for years, to create the helmet for Alex.
“I felt weird at first because nobody wears helmets,” Alex said. “I put it on and it wasn’t bad. Obviously, it was really different playing at first.
“It was hard because I got called names. I am still playing with it now; it was so worth it. When I wasn’t playing with it, I wasn’t the same; I couldn’t be as aggressive. I was scared to go to goal and I didn’t want to get checked in the head.”
Does wearing a helmet change the way people play against her or change the way officials make calls?
“I would say sometimes it depends,” Fehmel said. “Sometimes doesn’t work out because I won’t necessarily react to it if get hit in the head.
“If I don’t react, some refs won’t call it. I learned to put my hand on my head; it works out. I would say they normally treat me like a normal player. Just because I wear a helmet does not mean they shouldn’t call it; so usually it works in my favor.”
Now that Fehmel has been wearing the helmet for several years, she has gained a reputation as a very good player that happens to wear a helmet.
“They kind of know who I am now, so many people come up to me at lacrosse tournaments and want to buy one,” she said. “They saw my picture in the paper and now I don’t get made fun of.”
Fehmel does not believe that wearing soft helmets would change the game or make it rougher.
“I feel like the sport would get a lot more dangerous if we wore boys’ helmets,” she said. “Those are hard. Mine is soft.
“With the rules (being enforced), it should not matter. I don’t think they’ll start playing rougher. The refs have to call them fairly.”
Fehmel said that wearing a helmet has not impacted her college recruiting. She has received letters from at least 50 schools and none are concerned that she plans to wear her helmet at the college level.. She is looking at Michigan and Fairfield, among others.
“I couldn’t imagine playing without it,” she said. “Sometimes if just passing before a game or practice I won’t wear it, but when we go into drills and coach blows the whistle, it’s on for good.”