In what it considers a proactive effort aimed at player safety, the Ridgefield Youth Football program is planning to give its participants some more padding next fall to combat the threat of concussions.
The group’s board voted unanimously last week to purchase Guardian Caps — lightweight, soft-shell covers that fit on the outside of football helmets — for the roughly 250 children (grades three through eight) who play in the town’s youth football program. The Georgia-based company which makes the caps claims that its product can reduce the force of impact to the head by as much as 33%.
John Lehaney, the director of equipment for Ridgefield Youth Football, said each Guardian Cap will cost the program $45, a discount of $20 per cap because of the bulk order. For now, Lehaney said, the caps will be used only in practices.
“The Fairfield County Football League (in which Ridgefield teams play) has no restrictions on helmets, so using the Guardian Caps in games is something we can consider,” he said. “We have left that up for discussion.”
A number of youth and high school programs across the country, including the Staples-Westport High School team, have recently begun using the Guardian Caps, which were introduced two years ago. Most of those programs have used the caps in practices and not games, in some cases due to league rules.
“Marce Petroccio (the Staples head coach and a Ridgefield resident) spoke highly about the caps,” said Lehaney. “He said they used them in practice last season and did not have any concussions.”
With football-related concussions emerging as a major health concern the past few years, youth football programs have seen a decline in participation.
“We’ve been losing about 8% each year for the past several seasons,” said Lehaney. “I don’t know if that is because of safety concerns or the baby boom being over, but the numbers have dropped here, as they have all over.”
As a mandatory safety protection, Lehaney said the Ridgefield Youth Football program requires all of its coaches to be trained in recognizing concussions.
“Everyone is aware of the risk,” he said. “There is no such thing as just getting your bell rung anymore.”
According to Lehaney, six Ridgefield Youth Football players suffered football-related concussions last season, with two of those coming at the eighth grade level, where Lehaney is a coach.
Because it is a new product, the Guardian Cap has not been the subject of any long-term health studies. On its website, the company says, “No helmet, practice apparatus, or helmet pad can prevent or eliminate the risk of concussions or rather serious head injuries while playing sports. No conclusions about a reduction of risk or severity of concussive injury should be drawn from impact absorption tests.”
Still, the product has gotten favorable reviews from many of the youth and high school programs who have used the caps in practice.
“Player safety is the board’s paramount concern,” said Ridgefield Youth Football President Mike Ruddy in a statement. “While it is our belief we have made great strides through more effective coaching techniques such as Heads-Up Tackling, we still wanted to examine more effective equipment. The evidence of the Guardian Cap was compelling and worth the expense to invest in our players’ safety.”