Women's Lacrosse Headgear Products Hit the Market
A decades-long debate about head protection in women’s lacrosse reached a watershed moment Friday, as industry leader Cascade officially released the LX, the first eyewear-integrated headgear product to hit the market and meet the new ASTM performance standard.
While US Lacrosse, NFHS and NCAA rules previously allowed for optional headgear, no standard existed before ASTM F3137 passed in May 2015. Headgear remains optional at all levels, except in Florida, where the state high school athletic association mandated it prior to the 2015 playing season. And while no existing head protection has proven to prevent concussions, the standard now exists for products tailored to women’s lacrosse and to mitigate accidental stick-to-head and ball impacts.
Hummingbird Sports was first out of the chute with The Hummingbird, which debuted Oct. 12 as the first headgear to meet the stringent ASTM standard. Spokesperson Jodi Lin Gresham said the company, which was founded in 2014, urged the need for a “game-appropriate” solution, instead of “shrinking and pinking” a men’s lacrosse helmet, for example.
The Cascade LX, meanwhile, features an integrated goggle system. Those players opting to wear headgear would not need to purchase eyewear separately.
“Integrating the goggle was a huge part of the development,” said Jenna Abelli, category launch manager for women’s lacrosse at Sports Performance Group, which owns the Cascade brand. “We needed a comfortable solution, one piece that’s easy to get on and off.”
The Cascade LX costs $149.99. The Hummingbird costs $139. Protective eyewear ranges from $20-$120, with the most commonly worn products registering near the top of that range.
In addition to meeting the ASTM standard for headgear, the LX also meets the revised standard (F3077) for eyewear, which includes additional testing requirements. Cascade market-tested its products during the recent summer tournament season.
“It became clear that Cascade Lacrosse went the extra mile to create a unique product specific to the women’s game.” said Ronnie Davis, director of Monster Elite, a club team based in Pittsford, N.Y.
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The discussion surrounding protective headgear in women’s lacrosse dates back to the 1980s. In response to a rash of head injuries, several Australian players successfully lobbied the Australian Women’s Lacrosse Council to have optional use written into its rulebook.
In 1986, Massachusetts high school officials required girls’ lacrosse players to wear hard ice hockey helmets. The state reversed the mandate 10 years later. New York considered a similar policy in 2012.
ESPN drew additional attention to the subject in 2010 with an “E:60” segment that examined a reportedly high incidence of concussions in girls’ lacrosse, featuring two injured players from Pittsburgh. At the time of the ESPN story, US Lacrosse emphasized that research shows helmets do not necessarily prevent concussions, which are no more frequent in women’s lacrosse than other female sports, like soccer.
One misleading media report that continues to be referenced in newer media stories surfaced from a 2015 publication that drew headlines for girls’ lacrosse being No. 2 in concussions behind only football. That study, extremely limited in scope, used data that was collected from 1999 to 2001, and did not examine the current landscape.
A review of NCAA data from 2004 to 2014 showed that women's lacrosse had the seventh-highest rate of concussions in competition, trailing wrestling, football, men's ice hockey, field hockey, women's soccer and women's ice hockey. At the high school level, girls' lacrosse ranked fifth in concussions during the 2013-14 academic year, trailing football, boys' ice hockey, boys' lacrosse and girls' soccer.
US Lacrosse urged patience as it worked with ASTM, manufacturers and testing labs to develop a women’s lacrosse-specific standard for protective headgear. While continuing to fund injury surveillance studies through its Center for Sport Science, US Lacrosse introduced stricter penalties for major fouls, like checks to the head, and broadened its efforts to educate coaches and officials.
But as more players opted to wear headgear designed for other sports like rugby and soccer — especially in Florida, given its recent mandate — the need for a standard to address what already was allowable within women’s lacrosse rules became evident. The Florida High School Athletic Association identified seven products on its approved headgear list, none of which meet the ASTM F3137 requirements set forth by US Lacrosse. While those products can remain in play through the 2017 season, according to a recent decision by the FHSAA board, only those which meet the standard will be allowed in 2018.
US Lacrosse, NFHS and NCAA rules say optional headgear and mandatory eyewear both must meet the new ASTM standards.
Abelli said developing a product to meet the headgear standard was particularly challenging because of the deformation, ball impact and drop-test requirements. Because headgear is optional, it must deform on impact so it does not injure other players. Yet it also must be sturdy enough to withstand forces from sticks and balls. Testing requirements include a 45-mph stick swing simulation and a 60-mph ball impact.
“They’re kind of counteracting each other,” Abelli said, “the deformation test vs. the drop test and ball standard.”
In addition to its integrated goggle and flexible outer shell, Cascade considered comfort and fashion in designing the LX. The fit system includes a rear adjustable strap and interchangeable cheek pads, with slots in the back to accommodate every hairstyle from high braids to low ponytails.
“The mirror test is really important,” Abelli said.
Cascade began development of the LX in January 2014, shortly after US Lacrosse had drafted the headgear performance standard, which ASTM formally approved May 21, 2015.
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