DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- The Wahlert Catholic football team in Dubuque is keeping its players safer with head injury-detecting helmets.
The Wahlert football team practices on Wednesday, August 29, 2018. (Allison Wong, KCRG-TV9)
The Riddell Insite Helmets are equipped with five sensors: one at the front, the top, the back and one on each side of the helmet. Those sensors detect head impact and allow the coaches and athletic trainer to monitor their players.
When any of those sensors receives a hard blow, athletic trainer Molly Pilcher is notified via a monitor she carries with her.
"I have it set up so it vibrates and it makes a loud noise," she explained. "If someone takes a huge hit, that thing usually goes off and it alerts me that someone’s hurt.”
When the device sounds she takes the player out of the game, even if the player objects.
"They want to keep playing through it so this helps combat that," she said. "We’re trying to take care of you, we don’t want you to have long-term side effects.”
Coach Travis Zajac said, "if it’s the health of the kid, that takes, obviously, more importance than winning a high school football game.”
What Pilcher thinks is the most useful is how the sensors and the software allow her to track each of her players.
The data from each sensor on every helmet is saved and stored. Pilcher can see how many times a player was hit in a single game. The software also tells her exactly which sensor was hit and how hard: low, medium or high.
As she reviewed the sensors on one helmet from the team's first game she noted, "you can see he actually took 25 impacts during the Friday game.”
On Friday, Pilcher didn't notice this particular player took any big hits during the game, but reviewing the data she noticed he actually took three "high" classified hits. She decided to examine him, something she wouldn't have done without the helmet.
"I probably never would have checked him, you know, you don't see a lot of these hits on the sidelines, you know, I'll be checking on another kid and I don't see him taking those three big hits," she said.
Zajac said this is why the helmets are useful; detecting head injuries that might otherwise go unnoticed.
"This is just another layer of protection for our players and I think it sends a message that we value the sport," Zajac said.
He's received positive feedback about the use of the helmets.
"What I found was a lot of appreciation from the parents and even the greater, bigger community here at Wahlert and Holy Family Catholic Schools," Zajac said. "We’re doing everything we can to try to take care of our kids.”
Pilcher said the team tried one helmet in their 2016 season. That year they had 10 concussions throughout the team. The next season in 2017, they saw just four concussions.
Pilcher hopes the trend continues this year: no injuries, but a lot of wins.