By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 3/31/17, Reposted 4/2/17
It has become the hottest topic in girls’ and women’s lacrosse: Should the use of headgear be made mandatory?
The lacrosse purists shake their heads in horror, but due to the increase in head injuries, awareness of concussions and the possibility of litigation, the push to wear headgear has become stronger and stronger in the girls’ game.
At perennial Central League power Harriton, coach George Dick has seen many players miss games in recent years due to concussions. Harriton decided to act now and not wait for the possibility of headgear being imposed; so this year, after internal discussions with the athletic department and administration, Dick’s Rams are wearing the new Cascade LX.
The players began using the headgear as soon as practice started in early March. They first wore them in a game last Thursday in scrimmages against Archbishop Carroll and Bishop Shanahan
Obviously, there was reaction and talk from opponents, followers and parents, some positive and some negative. But Dick’s players say wearing headgear is not a big issue.
“It’s not a big deal; I don’t think anyone looks at helmets and says,’Oh that’s stupid, they’re useless,'” said Harriton senior Emma Arronson. “It’s more they are saying, ‘Oh, I understand.’ Everyone knows it’s coming; it’s kind of like a new cool thing.”
Last Friday Harriton dressed up their headgear with wraps of their Rams mascot on their helmets. The girls like the look, but they also like the feel.
“I was scared (in the past) to cut and get hit in the head or the face,” said Arronson. “Now when I go through coach says, ‘It doesn’t matter Emma, go through!’ It’s kind of reassuring.
“When we first started using them in the gym doing wallball it was a little hard (to see) when we looked up. But once we got on the field it was so much easier. It doesn’t affect us at all. There is so much cushion and it’s easy to adjust. The back fits your head.”
The headgear was made to suit girls’ players. They allow for ponytails in two locations and the girls said they can see better because they don’t have any areas blocked by goggles.
“There is nothing (blocking any area of view) on the bottom of the goggle area so our vision for groundballs is much better,” said senior Jordan Heller. “It’s an open field now.
“When we came out for the game (last week) we got some looks at warmups. Nothing too negative. It’s just different, but it’s definitely positive, like a cool new thing.”
Jenna Abelli, the Category Manager for Women’s Lacrosse at Cascade, made it clear that concussions and other head injuries cannot be prevented by headgear.
“Headgear is not designed to prevent concussions; nothing can prevent them,” she said. “The idea is to reduce the force and impact from a stick or ball contacting the head.”
In its recent guidelines on women’s headgear, US Lacrosse announced this:
“The ASTM standard is the first-ever performance standard for women’s lacrosse headgear, developed to help reduce impact forces associated with stick and ball contact in women’s lacrosse. The headgear standard was developed to decrease ball- and stick-to-head impact force. No headgear or helmet in any sport has been proven to prevent concussions.”
Effective January 1, 2017, any type of women’s lacrosse headgear that female players wear must meet the new ASTM standard, F3137. In 2015 Florida became the first state to require headgear for girls. The headgear provided soft protection as opposed to the new helmets; Florida is giving its players one more year to conform to the new headgear regulations.
Several other schools around the nation have outfitted their teams in full helmets this year and other girls in the Philly region are using headgear as the issue of continues to be a major topic in the sport.
The Cascade LX is about $150 and comes with integrated protective eyewear in an abbreviated steel face mask. It has become one of the top two selling girls’ headgear.
Abelli said field testing with girls’ lacrosse teams during the past 3 years has been integral to the development of the headgear. Per the ASTM standard requirements, the headgear are subjected to tests that simulate 45 MPH stick checks and 60 MPH ball impacts. More than 700 girls’ players tried on the headgear and gave feedback on fit, comfort and design and hundreds more tested it in field situations prior to launch.
Abelli said the goal is that headgear versatility and aesthetics is equally as important as safety. Having the eyewear built into the headgear alleviates facial pressure and provides a better user experience than a separate goggle and headgear system.
Abelli also noted that per the standard, girls’ lacrosse headgear must be flexible and deform on impact so that a player without headgear would not be injured when colliding with a player wearing the headgear. US Lacrosse was the main driver for this rule as the headgear would be optional. This is a mandatory requirement for manufacturers and not our own doing.”
Harriton senior captain Claudia Conrad said her teammates have quickly gotten used to the headgear.
“I definitely thought there would be an adjustment and when we first got them there was an obvious difference,” she said. “It took two days to get used to them.
“I think in the long run it obviously will help. I think other teams will implement them.”
Coach Dick – whose team won the PIAA title in 2013 and has competed in the state tourney five of the past six years – said the reason they decided to go to the headgear now was to make safety the top priority.
“The genie is out of bottle and I figured we would get ahead of the game,” he said. “We have been wearing them for 4 weeks and it has not changed the way we play. It’s become a fun thing; the kids got to decorate them and they embraced it.
“There is no difference in the game; none! They are playing exactly the same. The fears about other teams playing more aggressively against us or the officials not calling the game the same way for both teams seem to have been dispelled after our first couple of scrimmage and games.
All my parents have embraced it. All they asked was, ‘Who is going to tell them to wear it/’ I said I would and they said, ‘Thank You!”
Dick began to investigate the possibility of going to the headgear last fall.
“We as a school wanted to be ahead of the game of safety and when they came out in November I asked all of our suppliers for samples. I didn’t want to lose a kid for 3 weeks because they got hit on the head with a deflected pass in warmups which has happened the past 2 years. The kids bought in and the parents did as well.”
Reaction of girls wearing headgear from opposing coaches is mixed. Archbishop Carroll coach Lorraine Beers would call herself a purist who has great reservations about girls using helmets, but understands the change is coming. She also believes those who stand to make money through sales have influence.
“I don’t really think it’s necessary (for girls to wear headgear), but it’s not going to make me quit the game,” she said. “I think (the push for equipment) is a money grab.
“I can’t fight it. It is what it is. The good news is that I didn’t feel they felt coming off the field there was any advantage to the girls wearing helmets. there was some discussion that if you were playing a team wearing helmets that somehow there would be an advantage but I didn’t see that.”
Beers said her girls were prepared to play a team wearing headgear and quickly forgot about it.
“We talked about it a little earlier and I sent an e-mail a day before the game to get it out of their system now,” she said. “I didn’t want them to spend time in warmups staring and saying, ‘Oh my gosh.’ It’s kind of a non issue, much to do about nothing.”