Matanzas junior Bailee Hurd sat out two varsity lacrosse games in 2014, sidelined with a concussion she suffered during a chippy midseason contest against Buchholz. Flagler Palm Coast coach James Hackett says he hasn’t witnessed a player sustain a concussion in his three years at the Bulldogs’ helm.
Both are against the June 10 FHSAA ruling mandating the wearing of helmets in girls lacrosse starting in 2015. The decision was made after the Board weighed sport-specific injury data provided by Orange County, public testimony and a presentation by US Lacrosse, a national body that governs the sport at the preps level, FHSAA spokesperson Corey Sobers said.
“The number of head injuries in girls lacrosse exceeds that in football and boys lacrosse in some schools,” the FHSAA agenda action item states. “Data from Orange Co. Schools shows that one school had twice as many concussions in girls lacrosse than football or boys lacrosse combined. One school had seven concussions and another six in girls lacrosse. It is imperative that our membership act quickly.”
‘Short-sided and vague’
“If they’re going to wear helmets, then let’s just scrap all the girls’ rules and go with the guys’ rules, and let’s go play,” Hackett said.
But that’s not the plan.
“There’s been zero discussion about changing the rules of the game,” Sobers said. “And I think that’s what seems to be one of the divisive topics — is that a lot of people think mandating the helmet means the game is going to be more violent.
There’s not going to be body-checking allowed. We’re not putting pads on any of the girls. It’s going to be the same game, only they’re going to have a little more protection.”
Exactly what that protection will consist of is yet to be determined, Sobers said. The two obvious options are hard-shelled helmets, similar to those worn by boys lacrosse players or padded soft-shell helmets that can accommodate protective eye goggles, which were already required. The latter, Hackett contends, aren’t suitable protection against shots or passes.
“When a 70 to 75 MPH shot comes, it’s not going to do anything,” he said. “I have at least one girl on my team right now that can shoot that hard.”
US Lacrosse Vice President Ann Kitt Carpenetti released a statement June 12 criticizing the decision and calling for the board to overturn it.
“It is simply irresponsible to enact rule mandates requiring head protection in women’s lacrosse without a clear understanding of the mechanism of head injury in a version of the sport that is entirely different from its male counterpart, and without head protection designed and manufactured specifically to mitigate that injury mechanism,” the release states.
By introducing helmets, players won’t be as wary of attacking or check the sphere, the imaginary area surrounding a player’s head. Hurd and three Pirates teammates noted players readily hack goalies, currently the only padded and helmeted players on the field.
“I feel like we’re going to play rougher with helmets,” Matanzas junior Annie Dougherty said. “That’s why the boys have the sticks and gloves they do and the pads they do.”
Girls lacrosse isn’t a contact sport — at least not now. Sticks in the sphere, rough checks, checks to the head, slashes, propelling (shooting dangerous shots or passes), and dangerous follow-throughs are all foul-able offenses. Concussions can happen in any sport, Matanzas senior Juliette Grego said, but that doesn’t mean headgear is the answer.
“I had a concussion in volleyball,” she said. “Are they going to make us wear helmets in volleyball?”
According to the Baltimore Sun, a similar measure was introduced into Maryland legislature in Feb. 2013, but after the local lacrosse community railed against it, the proposed changes were abandoned. Hackett predicts a similar response from Florida coaches. The 13 emails sitting in his inbox the day after the resolution was passed prove a response is already building up.
“It’s been blowing up on the local circuit from the coaches around the state,” he said. “They’re fired up, and they’re not going to let this go without having a big fight with the governing board about it.”
Local players are similarly riled up.
“The refs aren’t going to know what to do with these helmets, what they should call and what they shouldn’t,” Hurd said. “All the girls are fired up about wearing helmets. They feel like it should be full contact or no helmets at all.”
Sobers said helmets will be discussed at FHSAA’s September meeting, with no decisions as to specifics made before then.
Neither Hackett nor the Matanzas players understand why Florida needs to be a pioneer when it comes to adopting headgear. In 2012, Bullis School (Maryland) became the first program in the country to require helmets. FHSAA is the first organization to adopt a statewide policy.
“If they’re not doing it, then why are we doing it?” Hackett said. “That’s the key question for everybody. If the big boys up in Maryland and New York and Virginia, and Massachusetts aren’t doing it, why is it we are? Is it that we don’t coach well enough? Or is it that we’re simply the first?”