It's a Friday night under the bright lights of Art Wright Stadium. The hometown Wadsworth Grizzlies are facing conference opponent, the North Royalton Bears.
This season marks a series of firsts for the Grizzlies. They have a head coach in Justin Todd, who brings with him a background in sports and exercise science. He is focused on growing the Wadsworth football program which includes roughly 90 kids from 9th through 12th grade. Since his playing days, Todd acknowledges much has changed in regard to technique and player safety. "One of the things we do is we hit a lot less in practice. The fundamentals that we teach in terms of tackling are different than what I was taught 15, 16 years ago," he said.
Also new this year, the next level in helmet technology. At the start of the season, twelve Wadsworth players were fitted for the Riddell InSite Impact Response System. The player unit consists of a 5-zone sensor pad that is fitted inside the helmet liner. The onboard electronics not only track where a hit occurs and measure its severity, but the system goes a step further. It also keeps track and alerts when an accumulation of multiple hits exceed a predetermined threshold.
Within seconds all that information is in the hands of Grizzlies' trainer Ron Burdette. He holds in his hand a cell phone-size monitor that displays alert information, including alert type, player name, jersey number and time of impact.
"It kind of alerts you just to say, 'hey this kid may have received an impact , that might make him susceptible to concussion'. Not saying that he has a concussion, but it tells us lets take a look at him, bring him over and do our sideline evaluation," Burdette explained.
All the data collected is later downloaded into the team computer and can be monitored throughout the season. Wadsworth also uses the information in conjunction with game film. Staff will look at InSite data as they review plays to see how and why those alerts occurred.
Critics of smart helmet technology caution the science can create a false sense of security. Coach Todd sees it differently. The information these sensors provide is invaluable. But it in no way should replace or lessen the responsibility of coaches and trainers.
"Only if you are negligent and naive to a big hit. We see it. And if we see a kid that looks dazed, we don't turn our eyes. We are going to get that checked out immediately," Todd said.
To be clear these helmets will not prevent or diagnose a concussion. They function as an extra set of eyes. Or in the case of Wadsworth, 12 sets of extra watchful eyes focused on keeping these players healthy, long after the game is over.
High School football teams turning to next generation in helmet technology.
Coach Todd says he would like all his players to be fitted with Riddell InSite technology within 3 years. Like most schools, they replace a portion of equipment each year. The 12 players chosen for InSite this year either had prior concussions or their positions made them more susceptible to big impacts.
Currently, 15 Ohio high schools are using InSite, including Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Fairview, Stow, Boardman and Shaker Heights. On the college level, Denison and Ohio Wesleyan use InSite within the state of Ohio.
InSite can cost around $150 per player. It can be purchased already installed in a Riddell Speedflex helmet. Or it can be installed in certain previously purchased Riddell models.