TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The quest to protect young athletes from head injuries has the Seaman High School girls' soccer team kicking around a new piece of equipment this season.
It's head gear, designed to prevent concussions, an issue with which the team has had all too much experience.
Freshman Lexus Gower learned about it the hard way in club soccer last fall. Lexus says a player inadvertently punted a ball right at her head. Lexus fell to the ground but later went back in the game. Afterward, she had really bad headaches and couldn't remember things.
Turned out, she had suffered a concussion.
Lexus isn't alone. Lady Vikes coach Louis DiLeonardo says the girls' team dealt with three concussions last season, on the heels of a serious concussion to a boys' team player that left him with lingering side effects.
DiLeonardo says the incidents sent school officials looking for a solution. He says they felt they wanted to make the choice to provide a safe environment for the students.
The search led them to concussion bands. They're light weight, with padding all around designed to lessen impact, especially from heading. DiLeonardo says an added benefit is that the bands might actually encouraged proper technique, with the padding placed at the point where the head should make contact with the ball.
Boys had the option of wearing the bands last fall, but, this spring, it's mandatory equipment for the girls. The adjustment's been tougher for some. Senior Carleigh Konrad says the bands fall off consistently and, if you tie them too tightly, you get a headache. Plus, she feels that the padding sometimes interferes with heading the ball, in that, if the ball makes contact in the wrong spot, she feels it might go in an unintended direction.
For Lexus, it's a minor inconvenience. Her main complaint is that they're hot to wear. After a four and a half month recovery, she's finally back on the pitch - and hoping the bands help keep her there.
While studies aren't yet showing just how much safer they'll be, coach DiLeonardo says it's worth a try to keep concussions from sidelining anyone else.
"You're not talking about something that's going to affect you a short time. You can't just go and get this fixed," he said. "We have to do something to help them out."
The bands costs $35 each and the school picked up the cost. In addition, the girls added extra neck-strengthening exercises and the school's trainer, Mike Longhoffer of Kansas Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, does preseason "IMPACT" testing on most of the student athletes and cheerleaders. It tests brain function to later assess for concussions and recovery from them.