Concussions are a sobering fact of life for football players from pee-wee to the pros. With that in mind, an extra layer of protection has recently been added to high school players’ helmets in the form of Guardian Caps.
The padded helmet covers, Guardian Caps said, reduces the impact of hits by 33 percent. But in response to a Wednesday Denver Post story, the Colorado State High School Activities Association sent out a memorandum banning the use of those caps in CHSAA-sanctioned games.
Fossil Ridge High School is the only city school that has purchased the equipment.
The Wednesday decision reflects the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment’s position on the Guardian Caps.
“NOCSAE helmet standards are specific to models which are identical in all aspects, except as to size. The testing required to support the certification is also specific to the model being certified. NOCSAE standards require that any change in configuration, padding, shell geometry, or protective system requires a new model designation with separate certification testing. The addition of after-market items by anyone that changes or alters the protective system by adding or deleting protective padding to the inside or outside of the helmet, or which changes or alters the geometry of the shell or adds mass to the helmet, whether temporary or permanent, voids the certification of compliance with the NOCSAE standard.”
Based on that statement, CHSAA has ruled “Any use of a helmet with the third party add-on equipment, such as a helmet cap, shall render that helmet out of compliance with the NOCSAE standard and thus, make the helmet non-compliant for game play because the helmet would no longer meet NOCSAE standards and NFHS Rule 1.5.1,” assistant commissioner Harry Waterman said via the email.
Protect Our Children, the parent company of Guardian Caps, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
CHSAA also warned in the email schools that choose to continue using the caps in practice should weigh their legal options.
“The safety and welfare of the high school players is of paramount importance to the CHSAA and NFHS,” Waterman said in the release. “The CHSAA encourages any school, or school district, considering the use of third party add-on accessories to work through their risk managers and attorneys. The liability that schools face can be affected by the use of these accessories.”
Steve Vecchio, Fossil Ridge High School football coach, said the SaberCats went half-in with parents last year to purchase 15 to 20 of the Guardian Caps. He said helmet manufacturers cite more friction from the padded caps as making them potentially more dangerous than the helmet alone, which offers the benefit of glancing blows due to the helmet’s slick surface.
According to the Denver Post story, The National Federation of State High School Associations gave all sanctioned schools in the country permission to use Guardian Caps in practices and games.
The CHSAA ruling goes against the NFSHSA ruling.
Protect Our Children told The Post about 8,000 Guardian Caps were used by football teams last year. Most of those, spokesman Matt Simonds said, were used at the high school and youth levels.
At $55 apiece, the SaberCats shelled out about $1,000 for equipment they can no longer use.
That’s just fine by Vecchio, who said only one Fossil Ridge player had continued using the caps into this summer.
“My gut feeling is the Guardian Cap does help,” Vecchio said. “But they weren’t very durable. The snaps would break. It’s not economical. For us, we stopped using them because of an equipment issue.”
Vecchio said it’s difficult to document a non-injury, but he did say the SaberCats had just one player using the Guardian Cap who suffered a concussion.
He also said, with the equipment budget being so tight, it’s hard to justify constantly replacing Guardian Caps instead of investing in quality shoulder pads and helmets with a proven track record.
“It was just a hard sell, to put that much money into something when most of them didn’t last a full season,” Vecchio said.
Vecchio said he still likes the idea of using caps in practice, something Columbine High School still does, according to The Post article, which pointed to a Protect Our Children study that claims 62 percent of youth injuries happen in practice.
The CHSAA memo does not prohibit the use of the Guardian Caps in practice, and time will tell if those covers will be allowed during games after future study.
“We’re all in the same business of protecting kids’ heads,” Vecchio said.
The question is how far will schools go, and how far schools will be allowed to go to do so.
Tyler Silvy covers high school sports for The Coloradoan. Reach him via email at TylerSilvy@coloradoan.com or by phone at (970) 589-3829. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.