Addressing growing concerns about head injuries, two companies this month became the first to sell lacrosse headgear that is built specifically for girls and that complies with new standards from the sport’s governing body. But the availability of the equipment has only made the touchy debate over whether girls should wear it even more stark.
For a long time, the prevailing view held that wearing headgear would lead girls to play more aggressively, making the sport more like boys’ lacrosse, a full-contact sport in which hard-shell helmets have been required for years.
But last year, with worries spreading over concussions, U.S. Lacrosse, the governing body, helped adopt standards for headgear for players who want the protection.
The new girls’ headgear, though optional, is likely to be snapped up by anxious parents fearing the head injuries that occur in girls’ lacrosse. In recent studies, girls’ lacrosse had the fifth-highest rate of concussions in high school sports; only football, ice hockey, boys’ lacrosse and girls’ soccer rank higher.
Nearly every state high school association and nearly every youth lacrosse group nationwide have said they will adhere to the regulations issued by U.S. Lacrosse, which writes the rules for the game with the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Still, the new headgear continues to meet resistance throughout the lacrosse community.
While Florida became the first state to require headgear for girls, in 2015, it will not ask its athletes to wear the newly approved headgear until 2018, a spokesman said, “to give several companies the opportunity” to meet the new guidelines.
Florida players can instead continue to wear what they have for the last two seasons, which for most players has been a thin, modified headband occasionally used in soccer. The headbands have been widely criticized by Florida coaches, players and referees. In 2017, the sport will enter its third consecutive season with a hodgepodge of equipment, most of it not intended for lacrosse.
“We’re stuck with this awful rule, and here it is three years later and they still can’t implement it properly,” said Lynn Millinoff, the coach of the girls’ team at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Fla.
As with other sports, no headgear, even hard-shell helmets, has been proved to prevent all concussions. But headgear has been effective in reducing head trauma caused by stick-to-head or ball-to-head contact.
It is unknown how many sporting goods manufacturers will ultimately produce new headgear, but the two companies that have taken the leap into the marketplace could not be more different.
The first to meet the new stringent headgear guideline, which is overseen by A.S.T.M. International, an organization that develops and publishes recognized standards for a range of products, was Hummingbird Sports, a start-up in Holmdel, N.J.
Hummingbird was founded by Rob Stolker, a real estate investor and manager, who was shocked when he took two of his four daughters to their first lacrosse practice roughly two years ago and saw boys’ lacrosse players on an adjacent field wearing helmets and pads while the girls were wearing only protective eyewear.
Stolker was similarly dumbfounded later that day when he tried to order girls’ lacrosse headgear online and found that none formally existed. He joined with a group of other parents who have daughters interested in sports to start an equipment company specific to girls. It introduced its first major product last month, selling lacrosse headgear online for about $140.
“The typical model for sports companies is to take an existing men’s product and shrink it and pink it for the girls,” Stolker said. “We’re going to give the female athlete the attention she deserves.”
Last week, the leading manufacturer of boys’ lacrosse helmets, Cascade, which is part of a broad-based equipment maker in several sports, announced that it was also wading into the girls’ lacrosse headgear market with an A.S.T.M.-approved product that will soon be in retail stores and is available at online
The Cascade LX is about $150 and comes with integrated protective eyewear in the form of an abbreviated steel face mask.
Jenna Abelli, product manager for women’s lacrosse at Cascade, said field testing with girls’ lacrosse teams had been key to the headgear’s development, which began nearly three years ago.
Abelli said the process revealed that headgear aesthetics were as important as meeting the performance standard, and she added that Cascade hoped the one-piece eyewear/headgear system would become the industry norm, as opposed to separate purchases of protective goggles and headgear.
For any girls’ lacrosse headgear to meet the A.S.T.M. standard, it must be malleable — soft enough on the outside that a player without headgear would not be injured when colliding with a player wearing the headgear.
The market for girls’ lacrosse headgear could be lucrative. There are more than 300,000 players in the country, a number that continues to grow.
But cost could be a hurdle.
Mark Hall, the girls’ lacrosse coach at Coral Shores High School in Tavernier, Fla., said most budget-burdened public high schools were already asking players to contribute about $250 each season in pay-for-play fees. Adding another $140 to $150 to the tab, Hall said, “could become a barrier to the sport instead of a gateway.”
And then there’s the fact that many coaches want nothing to do with headgear. They fear the “gladiator effect,” which suggests that headgear will foster fiercer play. The girls’ game, the coaches say, has vastly different rules from the boys’ game and a distinct, nuanced spirit. But substantial head injuries occur in girls’ lacrosse, where players wield reinforced sticks and fire shots with a hard, unyielding ball at 60 miles an hour.
Another counterargument is that other sports have had success with the widespread use of headgear. Helmets in ice hockey were once optional but have been universal at all levels of the sport for more than 30 years without much controversy.
Ann Carpenetti, the vice president for lacrosse operations at U.S. Lacrosse, was at an event this year when Cascade invited a variety of players and coaches to demonstrate its new headgear product.
“The players were not negative about it — at least not in that group,” said Carpenetti, who nonetheless came away with the impression that the players were divided on whether to wear the headgear.
There was, however, another constituency at the gathering that was emphatic about the utility and value of headgear.
Please review the following information and FAQ sheet attached regarding the headgear.
A few key takeaways from the fact sheet include:
- Headgear is OPTIONAL for the girls’ and womens’ games
- After January 1, 2017, headgear MUST meet the ASTM standard
- NO headgear or helmet in any sport is proven to prevent concussion. (link– http://www.uslacrosse.org/safety/concussion-awareness to educational resources for coaches, parents and players) Headgear and helmets aide in decreasing ball and stick-to-head impact force.