Loudoun Schools Say No To Helmet Impact Sensors

Danielle Nadler -- Loudoun County, VA -- Loudoun County student athletes will not be allowed to use helmet impact sensors, school system administrators concluded. After months of debate among parents, athletic trainers and the sensor providers over whether the new technology would help curb concussions on the field, Deputy Superintendent Ned Waterhouse said the administration has decided not to allow the devices in practices or games. “I don’t think [the school system’s] mission is to do research in sports medicine or researching in validating devices like this,” Waterhouse told members of the School Board’s Health, Safety and Transportation Committee Tuesday morning. “I’m not saying we should never use helmet sensors. I’m saying right now we’re making a responsible decision to decline to do a helmet sensor pilot or study in our high schools.” Last March, Bethesda, MD-based company Brain Sentry offered to outfit every Loudoun County football and lacrosse player with helmet impact sensors, and Inova’s Neuroscience Research program offered to track data obtained from the sensors free of charge to the school system. The sensors light up when an athlete takes a hit to the head at 80G or more, indicating he or she should be checked for a concussion. Loudoun County Public Schools declined the offer, citing concerns raised by high school athletic trainers that the sensors had not yet been sufficiently tested, that athletes wearing the devices may be targeted on the field and that the sensors use could result in false positives or negatives that would hinder athletic trainers’ ability to accurately treat athletes. Parents of Loudoun Valley High School football players, who have been the leading proponents for use of the sensors, recently presented two alternative options to Brain Sentry’s devices. One is the Riddell InSite sensor pad that is placed inside the helmet and the other is a device by Shockbox, which sends an alert to a connected smart phone if an athlete takes a hard hit. Tim Cocrane, athletic trainer at Potomac Falls High School, told School Board members he was speaking on behalf of many of the county’s athletic trainers when he said there still is not enough “peer review research” on the products. “Ultimately, we do not believe there is sufficient evidence to warrant the use of helmet impact sensors no matter who the manufacturer should be at this time.” School Board members on the Health, Safety and Transportation Committee did not take a vote on the matter Tuesday morning, but said they would yield to Waterhouse’s recommendation. All three of the members—School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) and Debbie Rose (Algonkian), who chairs the committee—said they have only heard requests for the use of impact sensors from Loudoun Valley families. “I just haven’t seen the groundswell of support to move forward in this area and be the guinea pig for these devices when there’s not a lot of facts around it yet,” Hornberger said. He later added, “I hesitate to move forward with something that the experts we have in house – our athletic trainers – hesitate to move forward with.” Rose agreed, but asked Waterhouse to return to give an annual report on the number of concussions at each school and sport. Dee Howard, mother of a Loudoun Valley football player who's pushed for the use of the sensors since last fall, was commended by Waterhouse for her work and research into various devices on the market. In an interview following the committee meeting, Howard expressed her disappointment and concern that Loudoun schools’ are not doing all they can to protect student athletes. “I could have thousands of parents show up to meetings and I still don’t think they’d allow it,” she said. “If we're willing to pay for it for our kids, I think we should have the right to use these sensors."

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