Heads, they win
Bishop Miege girls soccer team bands together to thwart risk of concussions
Mark Dewar Sports Editor
This past off-season Bishop Miege High School second-year head girls soccer coach Nate Huppe began crunching the numbers. He did not like the number of crunches staring back at him.
See, in each of the past five seasons Stags players in both the school's boys soccer program, headed by Huppe's father, Joe, and girls program had suffered concussions. As recently as last spring, a pair of Miege girls soccer players received concussions.
The younger Huppe switched to proactive, and his move had zilch to do with anyone's acne issues.
The coach investigated the concussion issue. He settled upon the Forcefield FF Protective Headgear (www.forcefieldheadgear.com), which trumpets the ability to reduce the impact to the athlete's head over 50%, as a possible deterrent to the rash of concussions inside the Miege girls soccer camp.
He also did his homework in and around Miege. For one, Huppe conferred with his varsity assistant coach, Bill Creach, who has been teaching and coaching at the school for 23 years, and got a thumbs up.
He also tossed the idea around with a sprinkling of parents in his program back in the early autumn to get their feedback. Their response was overwhelmingly positive, too.
What Huppe did not do next was go halfway. By his decree, he made the determination that every last girl under his leadership - the Stags girls varsity, junior varsity and "C" team - would purchase and wear the Forcefield FF Protective Headgear for every practice as well as every match.
HEADING OFF TROUBLE: Bishop Miege junior Liz Ulrich, left,
and St. Thomas Aquinas senior Molly Khoury duel for a header
April 26 amid the Saints' 2-1 East Kansas League win at Miege.
Every player in the Miege girls program this season is wearing
a protective Forcefield FF Protective Headgear to
significantly reduce the severity of head injuries on impact.
So yes, one technically could call it a force fed headband in this particular case as well, as Huppe's mind was made up.
The Forcefield FF Protective Headgear looks like the same one anyone might wear out jogging or to the gym. What does set it apart slightly is its comparative thickness and slightly spongier appearance. Almost a bit Nerf-ish, if you will.
Huppe had seen headbands worn by individuals on teams the Stags play - maybe players recovering from their own past concussions? - but for certain never an entire team.
"As far as I know," Huppe said at the outset of a recent team practice session, "we do not know of any program in any sport doing this in Kansas," he said. Huppe, who was raised playing this physical contact sport himself, does not view the Forcefield FF headgear as some sort of magic elixir so much as an effective safety measure and potential disaster deterrent.
"They are not miracle workers," he noted, "and that's what people need to know. We're just trying to be proactive in it. Not eliminate it, but try to stop it before it happens."
In order to help give his subjects some ownership in his process, "When we made this decision final, we let our returning varsity players decide which color to use," Huppe explained. "They chose red, which is one of our school colors, so we were obviously happy with that."
Those crickets you hear so far in the 2011 spring season, knock on wood, are the number of Miege varsity girls concussions suffered since the team implemented the Forcefield FF headgear.
Junior all-state goalkeeper Leah Starks suffered a concussion in a preseason team scrimmage just prior to the arrival of the Forcefield FF Protective Headgear Starks had been cleared to return to physical activity on March 22 for the varsity's first match.
However, again safety ruled in Miege's decision-making process.
"When any of our athletes get a concussion, our policy is they have to go through three days of practice before they get back to competition," Huppe said.
A footnote to the Starks injury is that it occurred from point-blank range and in such a fashion that the Forcefield Headband really could not have done anything to avoid the mishap. "That was right at the beginning of the season before we got them in," Huppe said. "But the headband would not have helped because the ball hit her here (pointing to chin).
"So she just snapped back. Someone took a shot inside the six, and she couldn't get her hands up quick enough. So it hit and ricocheted, and I guess that is what made it happen." Starks sat out until that Saturday, when she returned in a big way. She was in net as Miege recorded a pair of shutouts and successfully defended its Bishop Miege Catholic School Classic title.
The lone other incident in the program this season involved an underclassman on the junior varsity.
That player suffered a concussion when she used the top of her head to head a ball as opposed to employing the proper technique of leading with one's forehead. Hence, the Forcefield Headband could not have thwarted that mishap, either. But what the thing is doing is catching on given its displayed ability to curtail casualty lists on the pitch.
"Mike Moulin, the Bonner Springs coach, yesterday came up after the game to ask me where we got them," Huppe recalled. "I asked why, and he said, "'Because I'm going to have my girls do it next year.'"
Predictably, there were a few grumbles among the Miege girls early on. "They said they smell," Huppe said. "They're too tight. I said, 'Well, loosen them up a little.'"
Since then everyone's thinking has loosened up among the Stags, who got out to a 5-7-1 start this season at the varsity level heading in to Thursday's home match with Pembroke Hill.
These bands have become a source of team pride for these innovative Miege types. So much so, they were part of the official Stags team photo taken not long ago.
"I think we were a little uncertain about them at first, but they have been a big asset to the team," Stags senior midfielder Maggie Hair said. "They really have helped to prevent head injuries, and it makes (players) more aggressive when they go up for the ball. They are not afraid of getting hit because the band is there to protect them.
"I honestly don't notice (wearing) it anymore. It's just part of the routine now. It's a good feeling. We're the trendsetters."
Senior defender Sammy Nicolace suffered a soccer concussion her sophomore year, complete with two black eyes, as well as a knot she described as the size of a "giant baseball" and resultant trip to the emergency room. "These (headbands) prevent (concussions)," Nicolace said. "They are safe. It's definitely cool to be the first ones to wear them."
Signs and symptoms of a concussion
Signs observed by parents or guardians:
Athlete appears dazed or stunned; is confused about events; answers questions slowly; repeats questions; can't recall events prior to the hit, bump or fall; can't recall events after the hit, bump or fall; loses consciousness (even briefly); shows behavior or personality changes; forgets class schedule or assignments.
Symptoms reported by your child or teen:
Thinking or remembering: Difficulty thinking clearly; difficulty concentrating or remembering; feeling more slowed down; feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy.
Headache or "pressure" in head; nausea or vomiting; balance problems or dizziness; fatigue or feeling tired; blurry or double vision; sensitivity to light or noise; numbness or tingling; does not "feel right."
Irritable, sad, more emotional than usual; nervous.
Drowsy*, sleeps less than usual, sleeps more than usual, has trouble falling asleep. *Only ask about sleep symptoms if the injury occurred on a prior day.