Get a concussion, come off the field.
It’s that simple.
That’s what the MHSAA wants when it comes to the high school football teams across the state.
But deciding what is a concussion, or what isn’t — and figuring out if a player is safe to play football, or should sit out — isn’t as simple.
But Maple Valley is trying to make it easier to make those kinds of decisions as they are using technology and cutting edge equipment as they see themselves as a pioneer in concussion awareness at the high school level in the state.
“With all the attention on concussions, we wanted to make sure we are putting our kids in the safest situation we can. We wanted to go out there and see if there was any new technology or information that could help us with that,” said Maple Valley head coach Marty Martin.
The Maple Valley football program has taken two bold steps in the name of player safety for the 2015 season.
Maple Valley volunteered to be part of the MHSAA XLNTbrain Sport pilot program — a sideline concussion testing program aimed at assisting in decision making regarding the removal of athletes from activity after possible concussion events.
More high profile is the second project by Maple Valley, the use of the new Riddell Speed-flex helmets, using InSite technology — a monitoring system that measures the impact of the skull against the inside of the helmet.
For the XLNTbrain Sport pilot program, organized by the MHSAA, Maple Valley is one of nearly 40 schools across the state participating.
However, for the new helmets from Riddell, equipped with the InSite technology, it is believed Maple Valley is the only program at the high school level or college in the state of Michigan that will have it in use for all levels.
“When I took over as head coach, myself and the coaching staff talked about some of the things we wanted to do. And one of those things was to update the equipment and put the kids in the safest equipment possible,” said Martin, in his first year as coach of the Lions, who haven’t had a winning record since 2005. “We have had kind of down time here, both economically and athletically, and we are trying to hit the reset button.
“One of the things we thought we needed to do was possibly lead the state and be one of the lead programs in the country in terms of concussion awareness and treatment of concussions.”
The SpeedFlex design, according to Riddell, features technology that reduces impact force transfer to the athlete by selectively adding flexibility to key helmet components. Flex is engineered into the helmet’s shell, face mask and its attachment system.
The Riddell InSite Impact Response System is a new integrated monitoring and alerting tool designed specifically for the proactive protection of football players. It has a lightweight five-zone sensor inside the helmet. It has onboard electronics to evaluate each impact. It includes a player unit transmitter that is connected to an alert monitor when impact thresholds are exceeded. And each player’s helmet is configured to that player’s skill level and position.
That’s a lot of information that is very important, but all the players care about is, will it help when playing football.
“It is cool to have these new helmets. I think it’s great we are a small school, but we are setting the trend here at Maple Valley,” said senior Marcum Terpening. “But the best thing is, it feels great. It feels like it has been poured over your head to fit your head. You don’t bounce around in there, you don’t even feel like it’s on your head.”
And one game in, Maple Valley already is calling it a success.
“We had a young man that was popped pretty good and he came over and said, ‘I got hit pretty hard, did the alert go off?’ Martin said. “I said, no it didn’t. But I asked, did it hurt? He said no. Basically, because the helmet fits so well and has the flex technology, it is a lot safer than the old helmets. It doesn’t matter how hard a player gets hit on the outside, it’s the inside that counts and how that hit affects the brain. And this reduces that affect.”
Martin carries a monitor that will tell him how each of the 40 helmets he has in the program is working and if there are any concussion warnings. He carries another monitor tied to the MHSAA-based pilot program called XLNTbrain Sport.
XLNTbrain Sport includes balance and web-based neuro-cognitive tests also used before the start of a season to create a baseline measurement of reaction time, attention, inhibition, impulsivity, memory, information processing efficiency and executive function. The test also assesses mood, anxiety, stress and emotionality.
After a possible head injury, a sideline assessment is done using a smartphone or tablet with those results then compared with the athlete’s baseline measurements. The program documents the severity of a concussion, provides a guide for on-the-field decision making regarding treatment and recovery time and can report results via email to parents, coaches, training staff and medical professionals.
Becoming one of the leading programs in the state when it comes to concussion awareness did come with a cost however for Maple Valley.
“We raised the money through the district giving us $15,000 from the general fund. We still needed to raise another $12,000 dollars and were able to do that through private donation. We never asked for a cent, the community stepped up and found the money. In both cases, the district and community understood the safety of our players was the most important thing,” Martin said.
Safety is the most important thing, according to Martin. But the new helmets, with the space-age design, does come with some other perks.
“We were at Lawton for a scrimmage and we were walking right behind their team and one of their coaches grabbed one of our players by the facemask and said, ‘that’s one freakin’ cool helmet,'” Martin said. “And I think our players think he’s right. These are pretty cool helmets for us to have here at Maple Valley.
“But more importantly, they are safe for our football players at Maple Valley.”
Bill Broderick can be reached at email@example.com or 269-966-0678. Follow him on Twitter:@billbroderick
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•Oaklawn Hospital provided free concussion baseline testing to the Marshall boys’ soccer program. Members of the Redhawk program visited Oaklawn Hospital during two sessions the week of Aug. 24 to undergo free concussion baseline testing, a program made possible in part by a grant from the Battle Creek Community Foundation.