Kearney football experiments with new helmet technology

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KEARNEY, Mo. -- It's what parents of high school football players fear the most.

Concerns about the long-term effects of concussions are on the rise, and now, one football program in the metro is experimenting with a new preventative tool.

However, the governing body for Missouri high school sports says it's illegal to use during games.

In Kearney, pigskin rules the roost. Parents like Lee Setser are on their tailgates every night, watching their bulldogs practice from across the street.

The 2013 season arrived with a new precaution -- the Guardian Cap. This special helmet-topper wraps around the existing hard-hat to provide a layer of protection for players. Its Texas-based manufacturers say it can reduce the impact of hits by one-third.

"Anything the coaches can do to prevent an injury, even if it's slight, can be a good benefit for them especially in the concussions," Setser said.

The hits will still be as hard but the manufacturer says the protective cap acts as a shock absorber. Kearney Coach Greg Jones says the caps cost around $50 apiece. The school's football boosters helped purchase 60 of them. Kearney High is one of a handful of Missouri schools experimenting with the new headgear.

"I've seen a big difference," Jones said. "At first, the kids were like, 'this is weird. This is stupid.' within two days, they don't even notice it's on anymore."

Doctor Darren Lovick with Saint Luke's Hospital says concerns about football concussions are well-intended. He's a neurosurgeon, working in an industry that sees 300,000 sports-related concussions per year.

"People are hyper-vigilant now with any type of concussion and to return back to playing sports," Dr. Lovick said. "To get a young man or woman back to playing sports really needs a doctor's excuse."

However, Missouri's Secondary High Schools Activities Association says the Guardian Caps are ok for practice but they're not approved for game use. The Missouri Association subscribes to standards set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. That group sets guidelines for equipment in high school games. NOCSAE's Director Mike Oliver tells FOX 4 News his group hasn't approved the helmet add-on known as the Guardian Cap because it alters the intended design of the helmet as marketed by its manufacturer.

"Anything they can do to prevent a head injury -- for the future of the kid -- after football -- could make a big difference for them," Setzer said.

"You just want to know that your players are safe," Jones said.

The University of South Carolina is among the college programs using the Guardian Cap in practice. The Southeastern Conference hasn't approved the cap for use during games.

In Colorado, that state's governing body for high school sports has even banned the caps from practices, saying schools could subject themselves to liability by using them.

Click here to see Sean McDowell's FOX 4 Facebook page.

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