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Would helmets help in girls lacrosse?

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Thanks to Title IX, there are more scholarship opportunities available to women and girls than ever before.

In order to comply with its requirements, some colleges and universities have expanded their athletic departments to include sports like lacrosse.

Girls lacrosse is a relatively new sport to public high schools in Virginia, but it is gaining a lot of popularity, even with athletes who have spent a lot of time in other sports.

Because many athletes are new to lacrosse, some players don’t have the level of experience they might in sports like softball or soccer. That has led to injuries.

Lisa Smith, 17, plays for the girls lacrosse team at Mills Godwin High School in Henrico’s West End.

She was recently honored as part of her team’s senior night, but she is only a junior.

She has endured four concussions since she started playing in the 8th grade. The last concussion occurred after she started using what is called a “soft helmet.”

“One of the concussions messed up the nerve path from my eyes to my brain so I see stars all the time,” Lisa said. “According to the doctors, I shouldn’t [play]. It’s not safe for me to play anymore.”

Lisa’s teammate at Godwin High, Lauren Harms has only suffered one concussion, but it was enough for her to temporarily lose 85 percent of the vision in one eye.

“In my right eye, I couldn’t see for a little bit, it got blurry,” Lauren said. “It’s getting better, but it’s still not quite there.”

Part of the solution, experts said, is better fundamentals.

Godwin head coach Steve Worfolk tries to avoid panicking his players, but still wants them to play as aggressively as possible.

“It’s teaching them where they can move their stick, how to check the ball,” Worlfolk said.  “As they learn fundamentals, that does cut down on getting checked in a spot where they shouldn’t be checked.”

But the number of concussions in the game has more than doubled since 2002. That has parents worried for not only their children’s present, but also their future.

Mark Smith, Lisa’s father, is one such parent who uses everyday interactions to check on his daughter’s health.

“Even in common discussions, I always listen to what she says. Does she repeat, does she forget something,” Smith said.  “We’re talking about the mental acuity of a child going forward into maturity. It’s too dangerous and it’s got to stop.”

Smith would like to see girls be able to wear full protective helmets like the one’s worn in the boys game. But they aren’t allowed.

This isn’t an issue for Mills Godwin, Henrico County or even officials with the Virginia High School League.

The National Federation of High Schools sets the rules and regulations for sports nationwide, and it takes their girls lacrosse rules from US Lacrosse. It views the girls’ game as being far different from the boys and as such, does not allow girls to wear similar helmets.

Doctor Katherine Dec is with HCA Sports Medicine and is the chairwoman for the sports advisory committee for the Virginia High School League.

She has been reviewing studies on concussions in all sports. In girls’ lacrosse specifically, those studies have yet to determine that helmets, such as those worn by boys, would effectively prevent head injuries in the girls’ game.

“It’s incident contact,” Dr. Dec said in describing the difference between the two sports. “It’s not as much direct contact as the boys have.”

“If we just create helmets that don’t have those safety standards addressing the specific skills of that sport, it may not prevent the concussion or the issues we’re trying to prevent,” Dec explained.

In a statement provided to CBS 6 by Melissa Coyne, the Women’s Game Director for US Lacrosse explained the research they have been doing on the topic for the past two years:

“US Lacrosse, in conjunction with ASTM International, is working diligently to develop the first women’s lacrosse specific headgear standard. Both injury type and mechanism of injury in the women’s game differ greatly from the men’s game and therefore we believe it is our responsibility to develop a standard, based on scientific research, for protective headgear specific to the women’s game. It is our intent to continue to allow the optional use of headgear in women’s lacrosse for those players that choose to wear it. We are optimistic that the standard will be approved via the ASTM’s collaborative structure in the near future.”

But would that be in time for Lisa and Lauren to continue their careers? Both girls said they would play again tomorrow, if allowed.

“Most definitely,” Harms said. “As long as we have helmets”

If and when those standards are adopted, helmets will still remain optional in the girls’ game. And there are many coaches opposed to their use at all, believing they will make the girls’ game more aggressive.

4 comments

  • k davila

    You can have the fundamentals of the game taught all you want, but if a player, intentionally or accidentally, whacks your daughter over the head and your daughter has a bad concussion, as happened with my daughter, you want helmets because penalties in the game are too little to late by then. Helments don’t prevent all concussions (boys still get them in lacrosse even with helmets), but they certainly cut down on them. When I watch the girls play, it seems that the game is getting more aggressive all the time.

  • Missy Ackerman

    Lacrosse is growing faster than the development and availability of coaches to facilitate proper instruction. The officials on the game go through training annually. Do you know what coaches have done for training?

    US Lacrosse permits people to wear protective head wear and has for some time. Lacrosse is less dangerous and prone to injury than many popular sports and these statistics are readily available.

    As an athletic director, I am challenged with returning multiple student athletes to play following a concussion. These concussions have taken place in soccer and basketball, not lacrosse. To counter this, specific strength training for all teams, focusing on the neck, will be put in place for the next school year.

    For several years US Lacrosse used the tag line “two games, one sport” to recognize that there is a difference between the men’s and women’s games. Wearing helmets and shoulder protection is a move to make the two games more easy to understand, rather than make the game more safe. Proper instruction and technique with reinforcement is the approach we need to take as stewards of the game.

  • S. Loper

    Women’s lacrosse is a non-contanct sport. If played the proper way, one should never need to check or swing their stick to dominate a game. Furthermore, women’s lacrosse can not be compared to men’s because it is two COMPLETELY different games, everything from the lines on the field to the number of players to even the RULES.

    Allowing hard helmets in women’s lacrosse only opens the door to so many more issues. With a helmet, do you think a player would think twice about shooting space (a rule that forbids you to shoot the ball when a body is in between you and the goal)? Or detaining a player as she runs down the field?

    The problem isn’t the game, it’s the players. I’m not blaming these girls for getting concussions, I have experienced first hand how an injury can end your entire career. I’m saying that slapping on a helmet and calling it a solution is not the end-goal we should be striving for.

    Instead, girls need to have better instruction. If you claim the high school generation is still new to lacrosse and can not play the game fully, then why are we teaching an advanced skill such as checking?Checking and throwing your stick around in a last minute attempts to prevent a goal or pass is useless and dangerous. Body position is key. Try forcing people out once in while or ride them on the sideline. At the end of the day, women’s lacrosse is and always has been a non-contact sport. If the players are making it so it is not, then it isn’t the game that is the problem and it isn’t a hard helmet that makes it a solution.

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