Big Impact: RHS Football Team Debuts New Helmets and New Regulations to Help Prevent Concussions During Play

August 31, 2011
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A defensive lineman for the RHS Patriots varsity football team practices late last week in one of the new concussion-deterring helmets purchased recently by the district. The new helmets will accompany a new state law that changes the way concussions are treated at the high school level.

When it comes to football, players must have a good measure of brawn and a good head on their shoulders.

This year, as the Revere High School (RHS) Patriots begin their fall season, their heads will be protected like never before.

On the heels of new, stricter state laws governing head injuries and concussions in high school athletes, the school system invested more than $14,000 in top-of-the-line concussion deterring helmets that they believe will help to limit traumatic head injuries to the school’s football players.

The schools purchased 73 of the new Riddell Revolution Speed helmets, the same that are used by the professional New England Patriots.

“The cool slogan is that now every Patriot in Massachusetts is wearing one of these helmets,” said RHS Athletic Director Shaun Hart. “We took a look at a study done by Virginia Tech, which is leading the way in researching these head injuries, and they found this was the best helmet for protecting participants from head injuries. Of course, nothing is 100 percent, but this really helps in cutting down the direct impacts to the head that cause concussions.”

A New Day on the Gridiron

Football has always been known as a rough-and-tumble sport, with players in the old days wearing bloodstains and broken bones as badges of honor.

Some missing teeth were standard.

No one even thought about concussions or dangerous hits.

When a player got his “bell rung,” most of the time a coach would tell him to shake it off, get a drink of water, and get back on the field – headache or no headache.

Those scenes are now history in the game of football.

Led by the National Football League (NFL) and former NFL players – as well as collegiate programs – head injuries and concussions in football and other contact sports have become of paramount concern.

“I think we just didn’t know enough about concussions years ago and how they end up effecting an athlete,” said Dr. Warren Bodine, director of sports medicine at Tufts University and a medical consultant through the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) for the RHS sports program. “The retired NFL players really sparked this discussion due to the lasting injuries they have endured that have resulted in permanent problems such as early onset of Alzheimer’s. I think we didn’t know enough about what a concussion was and there’s still a lot to learn, but now we are light years ahead of where we were.”

Now, everyone is taking it seriously, right down to high school coaches such as RHS Football Coach Lou Cicatelli. Bolstered by new state laws passed last year in Massachusetts concerning high school athletics, coaches now have a strict regimen that has to be followed when a player gets a concussion.

“It’s serious stuff and they are very strict about it now,” said Cicatelli during a break in practice late last week at Harry Della Russo Stadium. “If a kid complains he has a headache, we take it seriously and check them out immediately. There’s a lot of new legislation out there this year. The coaches all have to take a course before they can even get on the field. It’s pretty scary stuff nowadays, but I think these new helmets will help prevent some of these injuries.”

RHS Trainer Keith Correia said he thinks that the helmets will help prevent some injuries, but he is also supportive of the new legislation that requires careful attention to head injuries.

“I think the helmets are great and they’re another safety precaution for the kids,” said Correia. “Is it going to prevent all concussions? No. But it is nice to see the kids in Revere have the latest safety equipment. The way we’re dealing with concussions now is way different than 15 years ago. The main difference is a player has to sit out at least seven days and be symptom free. Before, it was whenever your headache went away.”

New Rules, New Regulations

Bodine and Correia said that there are several new regulations, including the requirement to keep a player out until they have seven, symptom-free days.

During that time, Bodine said that there is a graded system of activity – such as only being able to run on a treadmill the first few days. As they progress, they can return to practice, but cannot participate in any contact drills.

Finally, after seven days and after being cleared by a medical professional, a player can return to full participation.

Likewise, athletic programs have to keep written records of any athlete that complains of a headache and is diagnosed with a concussion. Those records are to be reported to the state government in order to keep a statewide record of such occurrences.

Additionally, coaches, athletes and parents must receive varying amounts of education on what a concussion is, how it can happen and the effects on the brain if untreated.

Finally, there is a new requirement that every school district institute a computer program that measures the brain activity of an athlete before the season starts, during the season and after the season. Using this new software, trainers and physicians will be able to tell if an athlete has suffered any damaging head trauma.

Bodine and Hart said that Revere has invested in the program known as Impact, which is used on football players at the professional level. The test is known as a compression test and it specifically measures memory and reaction time.

Bodine said all of the new data from the computer program and the written concussion records (which document the player’s position and the situation during the hit) will be used to tweak the rules of the game to make it less dangerous for young people.

“A lot of that information will be factored in to make sure the rules are adjusted to protect the players while not taking away from the fabric of the game,” said Bodine.

Revere Ahead of the Curve

Hart said that once the new regulations were passed concerning concussions, he was proactive in talking with the leadership of the district to try and get better safety equipment.

He said that Superintendent Paul Dakin was quick to go to bat for the funds to purchase the new helmets, noting that the issue of head injuries in football has been front and center lately.

“This is about our superintendent not wanting to dodge the issue of concussions in our student athletes,” said Hart. “This is him going to bat for our kids. Now, I think we’re definitely up there in being one of the first programs to have these helmets. The Lynn schools are going through a process now, but haven’t gotten through it yet. We’re definitely ahead of the curve.”

Dakin said he was glad to support the football team on such a timely and important subject.

“People say that I don’t support the athletic department in Revere; that I don’t care about sports,” said Dakin. “I do support Revere athletics when the expenditure makes sense, and this one made perfect sense.”

The RHS Patriots and their new helmets will debut in a road game against the Medford High Mustangs on Friday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m.

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