Catholic Central football players will wear helmet sensors to detect head injuries

Starting this season, football players at Novi Detroit Catholic Central will be wearing new helmets equipped with sensors that can detect head impacts, part of an effort by the school and the Michigan High School Athletic Association to better protect players from concussions and head injuries. In this photo, Catholic Central battles Warren De La Salle in the 2018 Prep Bowl at Ford Field. (Mr. Mack Photography | Special to Detroit Catholic)

NOVI — This fall, Catholic Central’s varsity football players will be wearing helmets equipped with sensors to detect head injuries, particularly concussions.

“It’s another way to keep kids safe,” said athletic director Aaron Babicz.

Thanks to an anonymous alumnus donor, Catholic Central purchased 60 Riddell SpeedFlex helmets and the accompanying InSite Impact Response System at about $400 each.

The helmet is designed to disperse energy, reducing the risk of trauma, while the InSite is intended to alert coaches when a player suffers a significant hit to the head, or multiple hits that combine to pose a risk.

“We recondition helmets every year,” Babicz explained, “and every five to seven years we buy new ones. This was the year for new helmets. Without this donation, our budget wouldn’t have allowed us to buy these sensor helmets.”

Here’s how it works:

Each player’s helmet is fitted with a five-point sensor liner that measures impact severity and sends an alert to sideline staff whether the helmet is worn in practices or games.

The liner has a predetermined threshold based upon the player’s position, his skill level, and technology developed by Riddell that has analyzed and assessed risks based on nearly 2 million impacts since 2003.

If an impact or sequence of impacts exceeds the threshold, an alert is transmitted wirelessly to the Alert Monitor, which must be used within 50 yards of the players.

The new football helmets Detroit Catholic Central players will wear this fall are designed to alert team staff when a player suffers a blow to the head.
The Riddell SpeedFlex helmets are outfitted with InSite Impact Response System transmitters that can detect hits. (Photos courtesy of Detroit Catholic Central High School)

The monitor is a hand-held device, about the size of an iPhone, that flashes the player’s number and signals with a blinking light, vibration and/or audio signal that a head impact has occurred.

The system does not diagnose concussions. This is where the human element intervenes based upon a concussion protocol developed for all boys and girls sports by the Michigan High School Athletic Association and adopted by the Catholic League.

An athlete who exhibits signs, symptoms, or behaviors consistent with a concussion — as determined by an official, or in CC’s case, by a monitor in football — is to be immediately removed from the contest and not allowed to return to play until cleared by an appropriate health care professional.

If the health care professional determines that no concussion has occurred, the athlete may return to competition. If not, then the athlete will be subject to the “return to play protocol,” which can take up to seven days and requires clearance in writing only from a physician.

The system also comes with a player management software that can be downloaded on both Windows and Mac computers. This allows coaches and trainers to create and edit rosters, and review data downloaded from the Alert Monitor.

“Football is a collision sport,” said Babicz, a 1993 Catholic Central grad, whose father refused to let him play until high school. He continued playing at Hillsdale College. “Football taught me invaluable lessons for the game of life. When you get knocked down, you get right back up.”

He added: “Coaches, ADs, the MHSAA, the CHSL all are concerned with making football safer.”

Along that line, the MHSAA announced a couple of rule changes for this fall. Intentionally tripping a player will result in a 15-yard penalty. The definition of a horse-collar tackle has been expanded to include grabbing of the name plate area on the back of the jersey (along with the inside of the neck area of the jersey or shoulder pads) to bring a runner to the ground. That, too, will be a 15-yard penalty.

Beginning this season, the amount of practice “collision” contact is defined in minutes instead of allowed days. Teams will be allowed no more than six hours of full-pads collision contact per week during the preseason and no more than 30 minutes of collision contact during a week of in-season (after games begin) practice.

The MHSAA is continually engaged in a variety of progressive programs to help schools make critical decisions about identifying potential concussions and supporting families with the first-of-its kind national gap insurance.

Since 2015-16, concussion insurance coverage is available at no charge to schools and families at all levels of all sports in which postseason tournaments are conducted. Contact your school's athletic director or log on to the MHSAA website for information.

In 2018, the MHSAA released a report of two years’ collection of data showing football — the highest participation sport — had the most concussions. The sports that followed were girls basketball (second) and girls soccer (third).

Girls report two to three times as many concussions as boys in basketball and soccer, as well as in softball compared to baseball.

The Shamrocks have been wearing the new helmets in preseason practices, but will get a full-blown test Saturday, Aug. 31, when they open the 2019 season against Detroit Martin Luther King, the defending Division 3 state champion.

Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Wayne State University.