New technology, better football practice habits reducing concussions at one high school

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LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- While football can be a dangerous sport, new technology in the helmet industry is making the game safer. One Lee's Summit high school using new helmets is beginning to see fewer concussions among its football players.

Every year, Lee's Summit North purchases around 15 brand new helmets from Riddell to replace those that have been broken or become too old. The Riddell SpeedFlex helmets use the latest concussion research and technology to keep the head from moving too much when hitting another player.

"Usually when you hit you can feel it up top when you get up," senior safety Niles Thomas said. "It's kind of shaky. With these, even if it's not a clean hit, you don't feel anything."

Thomas is wearing one of the new helmets. Last season, Thomas suffered a concussion and missed five games. He was one of three players to miss time because of a head injury. According to Lee's Summit head coach Jamar Mozee, that's the fewest number of concussions they've seen at the school in many years.

"Technology is definitely advanced," Mozee said. "The helmets are much better. They are padded. You can tell they're very conscious of what they`re trying to do is prevent concussions."

This year, not one football player has experienced a concussion so far. Mozee credits not only the new helmets but also his practices. Instead of having players go all out and hit and tackle each other every day, they spend more time focusing on form, trusting his players will be able to tackle once the game starts.

"You don't have to hit each other every day," Mozee said. "I think that (hitting everyday) was a bit overrated. It's old school. We thought we had to do that and you don`t. The way we do things, it keeps them fresh. They are not killing each other."

"They`re going out and running the stuff they need to do and spending more time on technique and form," Mike McGurk, Lee's Summit North Athletic Director.

McGurk said his limited budget only allows him to buy around 15 new football helmets every year. Each new helmet costs around $400. While there is new helmet technology coming out, right now it's too pricey for the school district.

For instance, Riddell has created the InSite System, where they install sensors into the helmet. A coach on the sideline can monitor a players hits with a device on the sideline to see the force of each impact. If a player gets hit too hard, the coach can take them out of the game. But putting in sensors would cost a couple hundred dollars per helmet.

Riddell is also now coming out with helmets specially molded to a person's head. That way the helmet stays tight around the head the entire time. Those are pricey, though, at a cost of around $1700 a helmet. While NFL teams - and even some college teams - can afford that price, many high school programs cannot.

"Budget wise, it's really hard," McGurk said.

The school does get every helmet reconditioned after every season. Riddell takes all the helmets and examines them, fixes them and repaints them before sending them back. That ensures the helmets do their job: protect the head.

"It's a violent game and they're hitting each other and making contact," Mozee said, "and you want them to be protected as best as possible."
"The game is way different now. People hit way harder and running backs are way bigger," Niles said, "so I feel like you need a better helmet."

The success in safety at Lee's Summit North is catching on. Last season, they had around 100 boys try out for football. This year, that number jumped to around 150.

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