Hinsdale Central tries helmet padding to prevent concussions

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HINSDALE — Brad Huth doesn’t recall many details about the concussion he suffered while playing tackle football. It happened when the current Hinsdale Central junior running back was in the seventh grade.

“I remember being out [for one week] and I didn’t like it,” Huth said.

Huth was a running back for the Hinsdale Falcons youth football team at the time. The Hinsdale resident had played tackle football since the third grade and played flag football when he was in kindergarten.

But he didn’t know how to react in the spring, when new Hinsdale Central football coach Dan Hartman introduced himself to the team. Hartman also told his players that he was going to require they wear Guardian Caps — a padding that snaps over the outer shell of the helmet — during practice.

Huth got his first look at the Guardian Cap on the first day of summer practice.

“They looked weird, but they’re supposed to help a lot with less concussions,” Huth said. “They [feel] weightless so you don’t feel like you’re playing with anything on. You don’t realize it’s on.”

His mother, Corey Huth, is co-president of the Hinsdale Central Football Booster club. She said Hartman asked the booster club at a preseason meeting to buy the Guardian Caps, which run $60, for the 200 players in the program.

“When he came into the program, he said he used them before and had good results. He said his players were not getting as many concussions,” Corey Huth said. “ ‘Anything you can do to help prevent them is important.’ ”

Hartman coached three years at Evergreen Park and started using the helmet padding last season after the Mustangs suffered five concussions in 2012. In 2013, none of his players suffered a concussion, Hartman said.

“It’s a small number, but zero is still better than five,” Hartman said.

The Guardian Caps website includes a disclaimer acknowledging that research does not prove that the caps prevent concussions.

“I started using the Guardian Caps last year,” Hartman said. “I’ve had success with them, but I know they are not a cure-all.”

Executive Director Craig Anderson said the IHSA has no plans to allow the caps in games. He said the association hasn’t collected any numbers on how many high schools are using the padding.

“Our local medical professionals and at the national level tell us there is nothing you can do to add or subtract to the helmet that could prevent concussions,” Anderson said.

Hartman said no Hinsdale Central varsity players suffered a concussion during summer workouts and didn’t answer requests for counts since Aug. 11, the first official day of high school practice.

Hinsdale Central head athletic trainer Mark Sweeney declined to comment on whether Hinsdale Central players had concussions since preseason practice began, citing privacy concerns. He is waiting to see more data before being convinced it prevents concussions.

“They are doing its job of reducing impact, but you need to see the research. Duct-taping a pillow on your head might reduce impact,” Sweeney said. “Is it going to help with the risk of concussions? Probably.”

Oak Park-River Forest, Lyons, Hinsdale South and Nazareth are not using Guardian Caps.

“I think it’s an interesting idea, worth exploring,” OPRF coach John Hoerster said. “However, my understanding is that as soon as you put that on your helmet, the helmet is no longer held accountable for its job.”

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