Gateway: Sports

Putting player safety first, Peninsula Youth Football brings technology to collision sport

Peninsula Youth Football equipment manager Greg Moreno, right, and Riddell sales representative Nolan Kuzmick register helmets online in Gig Harbor last Friday. The new helmets track where and how hard they are impacted during a football game and will alert coaches if the kids are at risk of injury or demonstrating poor tackling technique.
Peninsula Youth Football equipment manager Greg Moreno, right, and Riddell sales representative Nolan Kuzmick register helmets online in Gig Harbor last Friday. The new helmets track where and how hard they are impacted during a football game and will alert coaches if the kids are at risk of injury or demonstrating poor tackling technique. jbessex@gateline.com

Peninsula Youth Football is continuing to move forward with its quest to improve player safety in football.

The organization is one of the first programs in the state to take a high-tech approach to monitoring players, adopting Riddell’s InSite Impact Response System.

It works like this: There are sensors in each helmet — front, back, and two on the sides. The sensors measure impact from wherever players take a hit. If the force registers in the top one percent for youth football nationwide, an alert will be sent to a coach on the sideline, who is equipped with a monitor.

Repetitive impacts to a player’s helmet also register on the monitor.

Any hit that registers on the monitor requires the player to be taken out of the game immediately and evaluated for concussion.

“It’s a huge step for our organization,” said PYF president Jon Montgomery. “We’re bringing technology to a collision sport. We’re taking the best technology available to a collision sport to help us pull a kid off and protect him.”

PYF, which has seen its participation numbers dip over the last decade due to concussion and safety concerns from parents, is all-in on addressing those concerns, and has been for some time now.

Montgomery claims PYF only had one reported concussion last year.

“We had 48,000 plays last year for our league, including all the games and scrimmages we did,” he said. “Out of 230 kids, we only had one concussion last year. That’s how much emphasis we put on it. … 98 percent of our injuries to kids happen on trampolines, skateboards, on the playground — mostly all off the football field.”

The shift toward emphasizing protection of the head happened a while ago.

“PYF has always been progressive with player safety,” said PYF equipment manager Greg Moreno. “They’ve always put player safety first.”

The biggest change in approaching the game — which has been seen in teaching at the college and professional levels, as well — has been changing the way players tackle. PYF has been hard at work on this for several years now.

“Every single coach (in PYF) goes through the ‘Heads Up’ certification,” Montgomery said. “We’re all aware of it. When we’re doing drills, we’re teaching kids how to tackle correctly and play the right way.”

The sensor technology doesn’t retrofit into older helmet models, which means the shift toward the new helmets isn’t cheap. The new helmets cost about $315 each.

“Out of our budget, $30 to $40,000 goes to equipment every year,” Moreno said.

PYF is starting the rollout with the seventh and eighth grade teams. Out of the 10 total teams in PYF, four will have the new helmets this year.

“Helmets have a 10-year life,” Montgomery said. “As the other helmets transition out, this will be the only helmet we’ll buy going forward.”

Not every coach can see every hit. And sometimes players will be too stubborn to report hard hits and try to keep playing. Essentially, this gives PYF another layer of security.

“It’s an extra set of eyes on the field,” Montgomery said. “To me, that is golden.”

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