Team to debut ‘Smart Helmets’

BARNESVILLE — When the Barnesville Shamrocks take the field Thursday evening to begin their football season against Buckeye Local, the 42 players will be wearing brand-new helmets.

Though they may look exactly the same to the general Shamrocks fan, they’re anything but.

During the winter, the Barnesville Board of Education approved the purchase of 45, state-of-the-art, Riddell Speed Flex helmets, which include the “ITT Smart Helmet Technology.”

Each helmet came installed with the system that measures the impact of the hits the players are taking. That data can then be downloaded to a program that Barnesville head coach Blake Allen has on his computer, so players can be monitored throughout practices and games.

The school district reconditions and/or replaces football helmets annually. With concussion and CTE being such prevalent issues across all levels of football, Barnesville decided to get ahead of the game.

“I want to thank the board of education for moving in this direction,” Barnesville Exempted Schools Superintendent Angela Hannahs said. “Overall, it’s an added layer of safety for our athletes.”

The helmets cost the school some $18,000, which wasn’t much more than the helmets without the technology included would have cost.

“I give credit to the board, our superintendent and our athletic department for stepping up and making sure kids are safe,” Allen said. “We had been looking at new helmets and this turned out to be the best option. Our numbers have been up in football and we think adding this kind of technology will help continue that.”

Though the technology measures the impact of a hit as low, medium and high, it doesn’t diagnose concussions.

“Each kid’s helmet is programmed and it will tell you if a kid took a big hit or not,” Allen said. “It really helps to ease the parents’ minds.”

According to Allen, thus far, through three scrimmages and camp, the Shamrocks have had zero issues this summer with head injuries.

“Knock on wood, but the results, so far, have been outstanding,” Allen said. “We had a few issues with head injuries last year, at this time, but zero so far this year. We have tracked a few high-impact hits, but not a lot. We’ve monitored those kids and had no real problems.”

The set of helmets comes with a controller device that will alert the coaches to any high-impact hits. At the end of the practice or game, the coaches can, however, download all of the data for every hit absorbed for a more detailed report.

“I am still getting used to it,” Allen admitted. “We have a plan, obviously, and we’ll be prepared to get a kid out of the game and take a look at him if we have a high-impact hit or if something comes out on the report. We can also look at it after practice and see when our kids are taking the most hits and then figure out a plan to try to reduce it.”

Though several high schools in Ohio are utilizing the ITT Smart Helmet Technology, Barnesville is the only school in the Ohio Valley currently using the system. Numerous colleges in the tri-state area are also suiting up with these helmets.

This process began in January when Allen and then Athletics Director Mark Cook began their annual work of evaluating the current inventory.

“Mr. Cook set up a meeting with (Mike Cicogna), the regional Riddell representative and he actually brought some different helmets to show us and then showed us this latest model that offers as much protection as possible.”

According to Hannahs, Cicogna presented the same information to the board, which ultimately decided to go in that direction.

Just the Shamrocks’ high school squad has the technology in its helmets. However, Hannahs didn’t rule out eventually adding the junior high, too.

“We’re going to see how it goes this year and then kind of go from there,” Hannahs said. “It’s obviously quite a bit more expensive, so we wanted to make sure the technology is used and see whether or not it’s helpful or not.”