Before this season in Ardmore, whistles and the crack of helmet-to-helmet contact echoed across high school football fields, ringing in the year as the football season began.
But this year, thanks to a $12,000 donation by the Mercy Health Foundation of Ardmore, the jarring cracks have been replaced by muted thuds and increased player safety.
Since the year began, each high school football player from Ardmore, Plainview, Lone Grove and Dickson have worn Guardian helmet caps, a soft shell helmet cover designed to reduce the effects football has on developing brains.
The Mercy Health Foundation donated 280 of the protective helmet caps to the four area schools. Dr. Derek Landis, a pediatrician at Mercy Hospital spearheaded the effort.
“I took it upon myself to do the research on the products itself and realized it’s the best option for concussion reduction that’s on the market today,” Landis said.
With more and more studies showing the long-term effects concussions have on the brain with conditions like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE, addressing these safety concerns has become paramount for football teams from the peewee level all the way to the National Football League.
“The importance of decreasing concussions starts before high school, if I had it my way, I’d have every youth organization on the planet using these,” Landis said. “The game has changed over the past 15 years. It’s faster and more violent. So the impacts you see on the field are vastly different than what you saw 10 years ago.”
Landis said as the game evolves to become more violent, technology to protect players must evolve too. And while no product can prevent 100 percent of concussions, Landis said the guardian helmet caps presented the most cost effective option to make the greatest impact for the most amount of local players.
The caps greatest impact on player safety will be measured over the long haul, Landis said.
“I like to use the analogy of a boxer, If you’re in a fight and you’re getting that jab, jab, jab the whole fight, it doesn’t appear to be doing a lot of damage, but it’s softening you up for the bigger blows down the road,” Landis said. “If we can decrease the little blows that are adding up by the hundreds and even thousands of collisions over the course of a season in practice, we should be decreasing the concussion rate overall.”
According to the Guardian website, more than 80,000 football and lacrosse players across the world are using the caps, which purportedly reduce the effect of impact on the brain by up to 33 percent.
Plainview football coach Joe Price implemented the products after meeting with Landis.
While excited about the generosity of the donation, Price said he was skeptical of the soft shell helmet covers at first. But since implementing the caps, he’s become a proponent of the product.
“My fear initially was if it was going to affect the team’s readiness for the physicality of game day,” Price said. “It hasn’t made a difference in how our kids play whatsoever. We practice hard and we play hard.”
Price said a junior varsity player was diagnosed with concussion during a game earlier this season. But no players has sustained a concussion while practicing with the helmet covers this year.
“I think the caps are why we haven’t had any concussion issues,” Price said. “Honestly, it’s a blessing.”
Price said reducing concussions is paramount to the future of football. When Landis came to him with the research, Price knew he had to do something.
“It’s obviously an issue,” Price said. “I was just trying to be proactive and find a safer way to practice.”
Dennis Thompson a high school athletic trainer at several schools in the area and owner of Excel Therapy said the caps have already made an impact.
“So far we’ve had no issues with concussions in practice for teams using the caps,” Thompson said.
Unlike traditional helmets, Thompson said the beauty of the caps is that they both absorb the impact and deflect the blow
When the Plainview junior varsity player is cleared to play, Thompson said the player will wear a Guardian cap during the game.
Which begs the question; If these caps reduce up to 33 percent of impact on the head and can improve player safety, why aren’t they being used in games?
“It’s nothing that would affect the play of the game,” Price said
Landis said the only thing stopping the implementation of the caps on gameday is the aesthetic concerns. The flashy logos and helmet designs would be reduced to the untraditional alien look of the helmet caps.
“I think it’s certainly possible to use them in games, and wouldn’t be surprised to see them implemented down the road,” Landis said. “But people would be worried about the appearance. You would have to hurdle the obstacles to cover the logos.”