Rifle football team tests helmet pads to combat injury risk
As the danger of concussions in football continues to be a hot-button topic, one local high school is attempting to do everything it can to reduce the amount of impact on heads during controlled practices.
At Rifle High School, the Bears might look a bit different this fall during practices under head coach Damon Wells, thanks to the purchase of a product known as Guardian Caps, which are essentially soft, clip-on pads for a helmet.
Founded in Georgia by Erin and Lee Hanson, the [swift-facebook]Guardian Cap brings a padded, soft-shell layer to the outside of the decades old hard-shell football helmet and reduces impact up to 33 percent, while also keeping players cooler.[/swift-facebook] The cap clips on to the helmet around the face mask to create a soft shell around the helmet itself, which allows for easy on-and-off use while also protecting the helmets from wear and tear, keeping them safe for game day.
“I met with the owners at a coaching clinic earlier this year and asked for samples of the product,” Wells said. “They sent us a sample, and one of my favorite things to do was to ask people to hold their hand straight out and then take two helmets with the caps on and bang them into your hand. The caps are so soft that you don’t even hurt your hand. With that, as well as all the research poured into the cap, we decided to go ahead and purchase it. And truth be told, we have these all because of our booster club.”
While at a recent Rifle practice, the nostalgic sounds of helmets banging into each other with a loud crack was non-existent, thanks to the use of the Guardian Caps. The start of fall football camp and the reintroduction of hitting during practice after the third official day often leads to injuries of all forms for every football team in the state, but what was noticeable, at least at Rifle, was the small number of kids sitting out for injuries related to the head.
Already, the Guardian Caps appear to be working.
“I think they’re working exactly as we had hoped when we purchased them,” Wells said. “They’re working incredibly well, in regards to limiting the number of impacts on the head on a daily basis in practice. It sure seems like we’ll keep them past this year.
“We want to avoid as many distractions as possible, and I think part of the reason we really embraced this was because they weren’t going to be a distraction, and kids haven’t seemed to pay attention to them. It’s just normal.”
For now, Rifle has plans to use them for practices only. However, the Guardian Cap is permitted for use in high school games by the National Federation of State High School Associations. In its fifth year of selling, the Guardian Cap has sold more than 50,000 of the items across the country and has been adopted for use in youth leagues, high schools and colleges in the U.S., Canada and Germany.
Recently, the Guardian Cap has even ventured into lacrosse.
The players themselves seem to notice them when it comes to hitting, due to the cushion at the point of impact.
“Up to this point, I think they’ve kept us more healthy as a team, and I think they’re a big advancement for the game,” Rifle senior center Wyatt Warfel said. “I notice a big difference when it comes to hitting because it’s way softer than what I’m used to. It’s almost like there’s a big pillow strapped to our helmets. It doesn’t make football any less physical of a game, but it’s good for protection.”
If Rifle can stay relatively healthy this season and provide other high schools in the area with a positive testimony about the product, it could lead to discussion about using the caps in games.