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Prep football teams testing helmets that measure impact of hits

Alex Lemmens, a junior linebacker for the HHS Bearcats, shows the helmet he wears equipped with a sensor to measure the impact of hits. Alex Lemmens, a junior linebacker for the HHS Bearcats, shows the helmet he wears equipped with a sensor to measure the impact of hits.

When high school football opens tonight with preseason scrimmages, athletic trainers will have a new tool to measure the impact of collisions or tackles and flag possible concussions.

All four of the public high school football teams have helmets that a few athletes playing the more vulnerable positions will wear this season. Thanks to the Pardee Hospital Foundation, North Henderson has 12 and West Henderson, East Henderson and Hendersonville have four each.

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"Our goal was to get 12 for each school," said Karen Yagerhofer, of the Pardee Foundation. The helmets cost $500 each, compared to $300 for regular helmets. The foundation raised $8,600 in its cornhole tournament and used the proceeds to buy helmets. 

The Riddell helmets are fitted with a sensor, about half the size of a dime, that measures the G-force of hits on the field. The  program is connected to the leading research program in the country into football concussions. The concussion study program will use the
Kevin M. Guskiewicz, who was named interim chancellor at UNC at Chapel Hill in February, is a neurologist and internationally recognized expert in sports-related concussions. The large research program has been used by the NCAA and the NFL to establish concussion treatment policies.

DwayneDurhamPardee sports medicine chief Dwayne Durham displays a tracker football trainers will use to see the impact of hits on the field.“UNC is the epicenter for concussion study in the nation,” Dwayne Durham, director of Pardee’s sports medicine program, told the Hendersonville Kiwanis Club on Thursday. Durham emphasized that the helmets neither prevent nor diagnose a concussion; they are valuable in alerting athletic trainers to high-impact hits that could result in a concussion.

The program benefits the schools “because that’s helmets they didn’t have to buy,” Durham said. “But, two, we’re going to be using this for data collection because what it does is whenever a player receives a hit the athletic trainer will have this sensor that is actually programmed to that helmet and it will tell us how many G-forces. It doesn’t mean the kid has a concussion but if it rings the buzzer we’re going the stop kids from playing just to make sure they’re OK.”
Any hit over 90 G-force can potentially cause injury to the brain leading to a concussion and early detection is critical to better treatment, Pardee said.
Responding to an audience question at the Kiwanis meeting, Durham said prep athletes in North Carolina are some of the best protected in the nation.
“North Carolina is ranked third for health and safety across the board for all athletics, not just football,” he said. “The concussion protocol is very simple. It is written in state law. And it’s black and white. If that child exhibits any symptoms they are removed for 24 hours.”
An objective cognition test is used to complement what can be a subjective opinion on whether the player has a concussion, he said. “If they’re OK, we let ‘em go back,” he said. If they’re not OK, they’re subject to a five-day treatment program.

Jim Sosebee, the head football coach at Hendersonville High School, was running his team through drills, running plays and passing plays on a hot Thursday afternoon. He said he's glad the school will be able to test the extra protection. If players take a big hit "we can check on them" using the tracker that reads the G-force. "I'm guessing some of the biggest hits will be when they hit the ground."

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