High School Girls

November 18, 2010

Heads Up: New York Considers Men's Helmets for Women's Lacrosse

by Brian Logue | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

The debate about helmets in women's lacrosse has landed on New York, where officials will vote in December on a mandate for high school players to wear men's lacrosse helmets. "I think the idea of making girls wear helmets that were specifically designed for a different game is irresponsible," said Ann Carpenetti, managing director for game administration for US Lacrosse.

© Greg Wall

An upcoming vote by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) to require men's lacrosse helmets to be worn in women's lacrosse as soon as 2012 has advocates of the sport concerned.

"I think the idea of making girls wear helmets that were specifically designed for a different game is irresponsible," said Ann Carpenetti, managing director for game administration for US Lacrosse.

The vote by the NYSPHSAA's Safety & Research Committee is scheduled for Dec. 2 and, if it passes there, would be sent to the NYSPHSAA Executive Committee for a vote on Dec. 5 or 6. Leaders from US Lacrosse, including Carpenetti and Steve Stenersen (president and chief executive officer) spoke against the proposal at a Section 8 (Nassau County) meeting on Tuesday.

The proposal came about due to the desire to reduce the number of concussions in girls' lacrosse. The topic was discussed in New York last year as well, but it was not brought up for a vote, as it has been this year.

US Lacrosse has been at the leading edge of addressing the concern over concussions, but does not support this particular approach.

"There's no data in any sport that tells us that helmets prevent concussions," said Margot Putukian, M.D., the director of athletic medicine services at Princeton University and the chair of the US Lacrosse Sports Science & Safety Committee. "They weren't designed to do that. They were designed to prevent skull fractures and intracranial bleeds."

US Lacrosse's efforts have been led by its Sports Science & Safety Committee, a group of leading medical experts and key athletic decision-makers, and focused on injury research, rule modifications and education. Among the initiatives:

• Ongoing US Lacrosse financial support of the injury surveillance tracking system within the Fairfax County (Va.) Public School System, which dates to 1997, has provided the committee with valuable data. Fairfax County was one of the first school districts to mandate a certified athletic trainer at every school, allowing for more reliable data.

"The study allows us to look at what's going on at a broad level, injury experience in a particular year, and look at lacrosse in comparison with other sports," explained Andy Lincoln, director of the MedStar Sports Medicine Research Center at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, and a member of the committee.

• US Lacrosse rules for women's lacrosse have evolved towards stiffer penalties for dangerous play. Among the rule changes for 2011 are a mandatory two-game suspension for any player that receives a red card and a one-game suspension for a player that receives two yellow cards in the same game. Teams will also begin to play short-handed for the remainder of the game after their third card.

• In 2007, US Lacrosse formed a strategic alliance with ImPACT Applications to launch a formal Concussion Management Program for lacrosse players that offers concussion testing, education, awareness and state-of-the-art standards of care. US Lacrosse has also partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop lacrosse specific content for the CDC's "Heads Up: Concussion in High School Sports" coaches tool kit.

A recent study coordinated by Lincoln, and funded by NOCSAE, used video analysis to look at the mechanism of concussions in the Fairfax County schools in the 2008 and 2009 lacrosse seasons. The analysis covered more than 5,000 athletes participating in 560 games amongst 50 schools.

During the study, researchers were able to utilize the video to determine the mechanism of injury for 34 concussions in boys' lacrosse and 14 in girls' lacrosse. Nearly all of the concussions in boys' lacrosse (32) were a result of body checks, while just over half of the concussions in girls' lacrosse (8) were a result of stick-to-head contact. That's one of the reasons that some people are pushing for helmets in women's lacrosse.

"I think there's a knee-jerk reflex to do that," said Putukian. "You have to be careful of what putting a hard helmet on someone will do. Will they change the way they play? Will they be more likely to put their head where they wouldn't have before?"

Soft headgear has long been allowed in women's lacrosse, and US Lacrosse has begun working with NOCSAE to develop a manufacturing standard for headgear that is designed to address the rules, culture and mechanisms of injury specific to women's lacrosse.

"Men's and women's lacrosse are very different versions of lacrosse with very different rules," said Carpenetti. "Players shouldn't be mandated to wear a piece of equipment that has been designed for a completely different game."

What shouldn't be lost in the debate is the need for people to understand the dangers of concussions and the importance of proper diagnosis, treatment and return-to-play guidelines. A player that returns to play before his/her brain has fully healed is at much greater for a second concussion, known as Second Impact Syndrome, that could result in permanent damage to the injured area of the brain...or worse. US Lacrosse recommends that any player suspected of having a concussion should be immediately removed from play and not allowed to return until they've been properly evaluated by a health care professional and cleared by that professional to return to play.

"This is an incredibly important injury that coaches, players and parents need to be aware of," said Putukian. "Athletes don't want to come out of the game, but they don't realize they're playing with fire."

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