WILLIAMSBURG—Players trying to hide getting their bell rung will have a harder time concealing potential concussions this season at three local high schools.
Many of them will be wearing the latest technology inside their helmets, and it will let athletic trainers know their heads have experienced an impact.
Warhill, Lafayette and Jamestown high schools, as well as Booker T. Washington High in Norfolk, are the first high school teams in Virginia to use the new Riddell InSite Impact Response System, according to Riddell spokeswoman Erin Griffin.
The technology was developed at Virginia Tech and rolled out for sale last year. It uses sensors with silicone wiring inside the helmet to record impacts to players' heads. A signal is then transmitted to let athletic trainers know the player needs to be checked for a possible concussion.
"It's exciting," said Todd Korabek, athletic trainer at Warhill. "I always take pride in trying to stay ahead of the game as far as injuries and concussions. This is just another way of us doing that."
Local teams received the helmet inserts over the summer, and Lafayette High athletic trainer Dan Gotthardt has kept in touch with the other trainers using them as bugs have been worked out.
Lafayette initially received 21 helmet units, and was waiting on 20 more to have 40 or so by the time the season starts. Warhill has 45, and Jamestown approximately 30.
Gotthardt said the system comes with player units that are a liner inserted underneath the padding inside each helmet, and a monitoring unit the size of a cell phone for the trainer.
The monitor has to be within 50 yards to pick up the signal, but the information is stored. So if the trainer isn't there or is out of range when an impact occurs, the next time the monitor is back within range it will ring.
The cost is $150 per helmet unit, and though the monitor usually costs $200 it is sometimes included for free as a promotion, according to Griffin.
Athletic trainers called it another tool in their toolbox, and pointed out that an alert doesn't mean a player has a concussion.
"I got a couple of alerts the other day during a tacking drill," Gotthardt said. "It doesn't mean they have a concussion, just that they received an impact high enough that we need to evaluate the player further."
"One time it beeped on a kid and he had smacked his head on the ground," Korabek said. "He ended up being okay, but it allowed us to see how this works and the benefits."
As the first to use the new system, the teams involved will also be the ones ironing out potential problems.
Initially Gotthardt got a few false signals, and he is working with Riddell representatives to work out those kinks. Another potential pitfall is players wearing a helmet other than the one assigned to them, which will definitely cause some confusion, he said.
The liners also make the helmets tighter on players' heads, so teams were advised to go up a size for most, Korabek said. Some teams have junior varsity players wearing them, but typically any player with a history of concussions and skill players such as quarterbacks, running backs and receivers will have one on.
Gotthardt said though it's just being phased in, the system is definitely going to be a help.
"It's a trial period," he said. "We have to see any kinks in it, but I think it will. It definitely will during practices especially, helping with technique. If a kid keeps dinging their helmet, they may not be doing proper technique. So that could help us with that."
Amanda Miller, athletic trainer at Jamestown, echoed that it's nice to have an additional monitoring tool.
"I have not had any problems with the system," Miller wrote in an e-mail. "It is very easy to use and set up."
Trainers said that because players want to keep playing, they do sometimes try to hide impacts to their heads. The InSite system will make it easier to detect and evaluate those hits.
"I think it's great," Korabek said.
Williams can be reached by phone at 757-247-4644.
See a video from Lafayette's football practice at vagazette.com.