Expressway: Girls need helmets for lacrosse

Shoreham-Wading River midfielder Alex Fehmel drives past Huntington Shoreham-Wading River midfielder Alex Fehmel drives past Huntington defender Colleen Wright in the Suffolk girl's lacrosse game. Female lacrosse players usually don't wear head gear other than goggles or mouthpieces, but Fehmel began to wear a helmet after suffering two concussions. (May 8, 2012) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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What makes a boy's brain more important than a girl's? Nothing, of course, but the sport of lacrosse doesn't seem to see it that way.

In spring of 2010 I suffered two concussions within six weeks while playing lacrosse at John W. Dodd Middle School in Freeport. I was lucky enough to suffer only minor effects such as dizziness and headaches, but nothing lasting. The next girl may not be so lucky. That's why female lacrosse players should be required to wear helmets.

The first time I suffered a concussion, I never saw the ball coming. I was adjusting my stick in practice when I was hit in the right temple. I only remember darkness and screams for help from my teammates after I fell to the ground. I thought I was fine, but the doctor told me it was a concussion. I had a bruise from behind my ear to my hairline and couldn't play for 30 days.

When I resumed playing, I was blocking a shot in a game when a girl checked me across my face with her stick. I left the game. The next day the doctor diagnosed a second concussion. I suffered headaches and dizziness for months and was out for the season. I sometimes wasn't able to remember things and I had trouble concentrating in school for a few weeks.

As the next season approached, I had mixed feelings. Another concussion would mean no more lacrosse. But I did play -- even without a helmet, because girls weren't wearing them. It was a risk I was willing to take because I love the sport.

Female lacrosse players usually don't wear headgear other than goggles or mouthpieces. Boys wear helmets with face masks and mouth guards. But a few girls have begun to wear helmets. A well-known example is Alexandra Fehmel, a player for state champion Shoreham-Wading River High School. Her dad helped make her a thin helmet after she suffered two concussions.

Some people believe requiring girls to wear helmets would make their game rougher and similar to the boys game, where physical contact is allowed. Girls lacrosse is supposed to be based on finesse and skill. Girls are not supposed to come in contact with each other, even though most do. While we may receive penalties for checking, or hitting with a stick, girls inevitably suffer ankle and knee sprains, muscle strains, and facial and head injuries, including concussions.

A concussion can damage a person's senses, memory, speech and even cause paralysis. Studies have found that people who have had concussions have later suffered from Parkinson's, dementia, Alzheimer's and other diseases. These findings have spurred professional sports leagues to toughen their policies on concussions to protect players.

 

Doctors warn that a helmet won't necessarily prevent a concussion, which occurs because of brain movement in the skull, but they can help prevent skull fractures and lacerations.

However, I think that helmets would reduce the impact of a lacrosse stick or ball and help protect the still-developing brains of young players. While some girls think that helmets aren't pretty or cool, I would rather be safe.

Reader Margaret Moore is a rising sophomore at Freeport High School.

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