Three Long Island high schools have invested in football helmet sensor technology designed to record the force of impacts to the head.
Oyster Bay became the first on Long Island to use the technology for the 2015 season in an effort to protect its players from the risk of a concussion. Central Islip and Hewlett added the sensor technology this season.
Oyster Bay and Central Islip are using Riddell’s Insite system, which sends an alert to a handheld device whenever a hit to the helmet registers above a certain threshold of force. Riddell declined to specify what that threshold is.
Hewlett became the first high school on Long Island to use a new system from Canada-based GForceTracker. The sensor is advertised as a real-time athlete monitoring system, recording information such as a player’s speed and acceleration to the “severity” of each head impact. All of the information is cataloged in a cloud-based computer program.
Hewlett also used the sensors in boys’ lacrosse helmets.
“We’re looking at it as we’re pioneers,” Hewlett athletic director David Viegas said, “and we’re staying ahead of the curve with player safety.”
Hewlett took action last year, days after the report by Newsday and News 12 about head safety and the quality of helmets in high school football.
The school district replaced its inventory of helmets with 125 new Schutt helmets, which are given a five-star rating by Virginia Tech researchers.
Hewlett spent $8,700 on 55 sensors in March and $4,500 on 30 additional sensors in July, according to purchase orders obtained by Newsday via Freedom of Information Law requests. The cost covers the sensors and a year’s subscription to the software used to track the information.
“We feel we are cutting-edge,” Superintendent Ralph Marino said. “We have five-star [highest rated] helmets. We have the best sensors. We added an additional trainer this year. We have two full-time athletic trainers.”
The sensors are about an inch long — roughly the size and shape of a tile used in dominoes — and attach inside the helmet.
When a player receives an impact to the head, the sensor transmits data analyzing the force of the hit, allowing someone on the sideline to view the data on a laptop as the play unfolds.
“I thought it would be a big, bulky contraption in my helmet,” Hewlett quarterback Jake Levitz said. “I thought it would be real uncomfortable. But you really don’t notice them when you play.”
GForceTracker chief technology officer Gerry Iuliano said the high schools that have bought the system have been using the data for different purposes.
Some coaches use it to determine when a player needs to be checked after a severe hit — either by setting it to send an alert after hits above a threshold of their choice, or by looking for athletes who suddenly registered a slower running speed than their average, he said. Coaches also use it to log hits per player, position, practice, game and season.
Viegas said Hewlett’s sensors are set to send an alert if a player receives an impact at or above 80 G-forces, which is a measurement that takes into account acceleration and weight. Stefan Duma, the lead author of Virginia Tech’s study into a helmet’s ability to reduce the risk of concussion, described an 80-G impact as a “very big hit and at the level where you start to see concussions.”
Other schools are using the system for strategic purposes. Iuliano said some coaches use the sensors to determine how to best utilize players on the field based on their speed. The data might show that a player accelerates faster going straight ahead as opposed to when they run on an angle, or vice versa, and that affects play calls.
Viegas said it’s too soon for Hewlett to know for certain what the school will do with all the data it has been compiling about athletes, the hits they’ve taken and their tendencies. He said he plans to share it with the school physician after the season.
Central Islip athletic director Larry Philips said the purchase of sensors came after the board of education “inquired about what steps we were already taking to help decrease head injuries and what more we could do.”
Philips said the alerts went off about 65 times this season, and three of them led to players being removed because of suspected concussions.
Oyster Bay athletic director Kevin Trentowski said the sensors went off about 30 times last season, but none led to a player being held out because of a suspected concussion. He said the sensors were also useful as a teaching tool.
One player, he said, had his sensor go off a dozen times within the span of a few minutes during practice while the player was hitting the tackling sled. Coaches worked with the player to correct his tackling technique to keep his head out of the play.
Trentowski said this year the sensors sent fewer alerts than a year ago, and again none of them led to a concussion diagnosis.
“Is it because the kids know it’s there and they’re going to be checked after it goes off? . . . Or is it maybe that high school football is becoming safer?” Trentowski said. “I don’t know.”