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Junior football team adds helmet caps to reduce brain damage risk
Caps will be used only in practices, not sanctioned for game time

Snohomish Jr Football red squad’s Jordan Olson (left) and Oscar Adams (center) participate in a blocking drill as assistant coach Joe Clarke watches during the team’s practice at Centennial Middle School on Thursday, Aug. 9. Pictured at right is the helmet cap.

SNOHOMISH — Less concussions, more players: the Snohomish Panthers Jr. football league aims to score both with new impact-reducing headgear and other safety measures.
League president Kale Alexander noticed as awareness about concussions and brain disease from repeated trauma grew, the number of teams and players throughout the region dropped.
And in a close-knit community where the kids practice up to five times a week, sometimes from age 5 through 14, the league wanted to take the best possible care of its football family.
So the Panthers Jr. incorporated Guardian Caps into practices and hired Galen Youth On-Site Sports Medicine to help assess potential injuries during home and away games.
The cap‘s makers say it can absorb up to 33 percent of the impact in a collision. 
Players began using the Guardian helmet covers in practices last week. While the new padded cap look took a little getting used to, players seemed happy with the Guardian.
The “bubbleheads,” as 13-year-old Stewart Morgan calls them, are barely noticeable at seven ounces, and he said he could feel the difference when taking hits.
Even in practice, the helmet caps take a beating: the team doesn’t need opponents to knock their heads hard against training obstacles or each other. They collide over and obstacles or each other. They collide over and over trying to catch passes, doing drills or scrimmaging.
The caps fit over the helmet snugly and players attach them to their facemasks with elastic straps. The porous looking, foam-textured headgear is made of urethane, an artificial shock-absorbing rubber.
For Alexander, safety is personal: his son Kaden plays in the league while his dad Bill and a brother also coach.
Football mom Stacy Morse said her son had a concussion totally unrelated to football and having the safety gear helped in her decision to let him play. 
For coaches there are a couple added benefits: “It’s quieter too, there’s none of the ‘click click’ we used to hear a lot,” said league vice president Leon Berman, “and the helmets last longer.”
Those elastic straps could cause problems in a game situation, Kale Alexander said, so for now they’re only used at practices. They aren’t currently typically used in high school or college games either as certifications that helmets and other gear are safe can be voided if aftermarket items such as the caps are added.
The helmet covers have proved popular among high school and college players as well as youth leagues like the Panthers Jr. The company says it has more than 80,000 football and lacrosse players using the protective caps.
The Panthers Jr. season begins later this month and the league is also hosting the areawide jamboree this weekend.
The league is also focusing on safety through the Heads Up program of USA Football. Alexander said every coach, not just head coaches, is certified in the program, which focuses on safety around concussions, hydration, proper drills and cardiac arrest.


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