High School Girls

June 12, 2014

Florida Girls' Helmet Ruling Stirs Debate

by Corey McLaughlin and Laurel Pfahler | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

The Florida state athletic association voted this week to require helmets for girls' lacrosse participants, but a groundswell of reaction against the measure has developed. (Andy Lewis)

updated 06.12.2014 at 2.49 p.m.

In a move that has generated much reaction within the lacrosse community, the Florida High School Athletic Association's Board of Directors this week voted to require helmets for girls' lacrosse participants, effective for the 2015 season.

But the decision immediately raised questions of its appropriateness, including what kind of helmet would be mandated. US Lacrosse, which governs high school girls' lacrosse nationally (and publishes Lacrosse Magazine) had representatives in Florida at the association's meetings and called the helmet mandate "short-sighted and vague."

Current national girls' lacrosse rules do not require players to wear helmets and only state that soft headgear may be worn. The FHSAA did not provide details about their requirement.

An online petition to repeal the mandate had already generated more than 1,000 signatures in less than 24 hours, and the FHSAA's coaches advisory committee turned down the request to mandate helmets before it went to a board vote.

In a statement [Full version here], US Lacrosse Vice President of Games Operations Ann Kitt Carpenetti said the organization has been working with ASTM International for more than a year to develop a consensus headgear standard for women's lacrosse based on research led by US Lacrosse's Sports Science and Safety Committee and any mandate for headgear before the ASTM's performance standard is finalized is premature.

"It is simply irresponsible to enact rule mandates requiring head protection in women's lacrosse without a clear understanding of the mechanism of head injury in a version of the sport that is entirely different from its male counterpart, and without head protection designed and manufactured specifically to mitigate that injury mechanism," Carpenetti said. "In both cases, US Lacrosse is providing prudent, focused leadership based on well-founded medical and research protocols."

In its initial statement announcing the decision, the FHSAA said, "US Lacrosse, which governs high school girls lacrosse nationally, does not require female high school lacrosse players to wear protective headgear although women are permitted to wear soft helmets. However, the Board continued its emphasis on the safety of student-athletes, mandating that beginning with the 2015 season, all female lacrosse players must wear helmets as a precautionary measure against head injuries."

A FHSAA spokesperson said Thursday that, at this point, the FHSAA's board of directors is requiring helmets but the association has not endorsed or recommended any helmet, nor has a decision been made on whether that helmet should be hard or soft.

"Typically, when the Board votes on a policy, the FHSAA moves forward with enforcing that policy," said Corey Sobers of the FHSAA. "The decision to reconsider is up to the Board of Directors members but the safety of student-athletes is the FHSAA's highest priority."

The board's next meeting is Sept. 28-29.

"At this time, staff is moving forward with researching helmets and gathering input from its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and Lacrosse Advisory Committee among other sources so that we can provide our member schools and the general public with guidance for what type of helmet must be worn," Sobers said.

Several members of the Florida lacrosse community voiced their concern with the decision.

"It's crazy the FHSAA would make a decision like this, assuming they know more about this than US Lacrosse," Jensen Beach (Fla.) High coach Michele Ruth said. "Probably even within the FHSAA they don't know what they are requiring. It changes our game because we will be playing different than the rest of the country, and I've already heard from some college coaches that they will not recruit Florida players if they are wearing helmets and no one else is. I'm not in favor of a rule change that makes us play differently than everyone else."

According to nine-time state champion Vero Beach (Fla.) High coach Shannon Dean, members of the FHSAA coaches' advisory committee for lacrosse all voted against requiring helmets when polled earlier this year.

Dean said he understood the FHSAA is trying to consider safety in its decision, but questioned why the association would try to set different rules than US Lacrosse.

"The national governing body has devoted a lot of money studying the issue and has not mandated it, and the FHSAA steps in, first one in the nation, to say we are going with it without any warning," Dean said. "That's where I get concerned. There's a lot of issues with it, financial issues of buying the helmets, and the FHSAA goes by US Lacrosse rules, but this isn't a US Lacrosse rule, so how do we say our gear abides by US Lacrosse rules? Will our US Lacrosse officials still be able to officiate? I don't think this is the last we are going to hear about this, because there are just so many questions that go into it."

Jensen Beach rising junior midfielder Kai Mildenberger said she thinks if the mandate stays in place it would "ruin the game," as well as hurt players' chances in recruiting. No other state requires headgear.

"It's going to make people think it's OK to be more aggressive." Mildenberger said. "Guys wear a whole bunch of gear, and they are a lot rougher sport. More protection doesn't necessarily make it safer ... We are in a non-traditional area for lacrosse, so I feel like it's already harder for us to get recruited. This will just make it worse."

A similar situation occurred in February 2013, when a pair of Maryland state delegates introduced a bill in the state assembly to require youth and high school girls' players to wear helmets. The proposed legislation was later drastically modified and effectively pulled after US Lacrosse input. It changed to requiring mandatory sport-specific education, training and certification for youth and high school coaches consistent with US Lacrosse education curricula.

In this instance, US Lacrosse is encouraging coaches and athletic directors in Florida to contact the FHSAA board members to overturn the mandate, and ask the FHSAA to encourage all high school coaches to become at least Level 1 certified through US Lacrosse and requiring all schools to use two US Lacrosse certified officials per game to enhance player safety.

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