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Parents of Loudoun Valley High School football players call for sensors

Loudoun Valley High School decided against using impact sensors on athletes’ helmets. Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
The first play of the high school football season was a punt. Now parents of Loudoun Valley High School athletes in Purcellville are going back to the playbook.

Amid a national debate about concussions and the safety of playing football, a local parents group is focusing its efforts on ensuring the safety of student-athletes beyond the football field to other sports, focusing in on policy decisions by Loudoun County School District.

School officials stopped football practice at Loudoun Valley last week when 24 players began drills with impact sensors on their helmets. Players were told they would not be able to continue practice with the sensors still attached.

Rather than provoke a confrontation with coaches or administrators, parents went onto the practice field and stripped the sensors off the helmets.

The sensors, which measure impact on the head, were purchased by parents from Brain Sentry, a Bethesda company that has partnered with Inova
Neuroscience Research. The company wants to put sensors on all Loudoun football and lacrosse helmets to identify the risks athletes face and to study data.

The sensors do not prevent or identify concussions or head trauma but serve as monitors that measure collision force and frequency.

The night before last week's practice, Loudoun Valley High School football players received an email from the school informing them that installation of the sensors would not be permitted.

Parents had enough sensors to outfit the whole team, but only 24 wore the sensors before practice was stopped.

“Helmets with sensors will not be permitted for use during practice or game situations,” the letter stated.

The decision was not lightly made, according to Wayde Byard, LCPS public information officer.

“It's not something that came up in the last couple of weeks,” he said. “It's an ongoing discussion that's been going on for quite some time...Quite a bit of research has been done on our part.”

Concerns over the effectiveness and accuracy of the sensors, the risk of targeted excessive blows by rival players to set off the devices, and invalidation of the helmet certification were among the reasons listed for the decision.

One of the biggest reservations was the lack of any national sanctioning of the device or of any protocols for its use.

“Without any sanctioning...we didn't feel this was a risk we wanted to take,” said Byard.

According to Dee Howard, one of the parents who spearheaded the conversation with Brain Sentry, she and other parents like the idea of the sensors acting as another pair of eyes on the field. If the sensor's light turns red, it indicates a strong collision.

Howard said the red light can help Loudoun Valley athletic trainers spot players who might have experienced a blow hard enough to cause a concussion.
The extra warning allows them to spot these potentials and carry out the nationally-approved concussion protocols the school already has in place.

“We understand, we're not naïve, that this doesn't identify a concussion,” she said. “All it is is an alert to a possible injury to the head. That's all we're asking for in our asking them to let us use the device. It doesn't change their protocol.”

Parents sign waivers which absolve the school of responsibility should one of the athletes receive an injury. They spend money on safety gear, including pads, helmet, and mouth guards.

If parents already sign waivers stating their responsibility for their child's safety, according to Howard they should be allowed to buy one extra piece of safety equipment.

“My son will be a junior next month,” she said. “I have two seasons of him in football, and I'd really like to use what's available to protect his brain. You'd think the school system would be interested...in using a safety protocol...that will only enhance (their pre-existing protocol).”

Jim Boyle, spokesman for Brain Sentry, said the company knew that it would be harder to convince high schools to allow the sensors on their players than other teams they've outfitted with the sensors.

“When it gets to level such as high school football, it's only natural that there would be processes in place that we need to fit into in order to roll out the sensors in a way that's most helpful to the most number of players,” he said.

Even so, he was surprised that a school in the fast-growing county wouldn't want to be at the forefront of something that Boyle and Charles Mann, former Redskin and chairman of Brain Sentry, believe will be standard issue on helmets in the not-so-distant future.

“It's kind of interesting that a place like Loudoun, which has sort of boomed because of the tech revolution, would not want to be a part of the early stage roll-out of the sensors,” Boyle said. “They wouldn't be the first (schools) to use them, but they would be among the first of the early adopters.”

Howard said she and other parents plan to raise the issue at upcoming school board meetings in an effort to get the Superintendent to revisit the issue.

Safety is cited as the number one concern by all parties involved in the dispute. Whether sensors will rest on the helmets of Loudoun football and lacrosse players in the near future is unclear.

“It appears it's going to be an uphill battle to roll-out the sensors at Loudoun Valley High School, let alone the whole county,” Boyle said.


This is the beginning of the end for football in the US.  Parents who used to disregard the blatant dangers are now going to be forced to face the reality.  They’ll start by demanding some sort of mitigation, like these sensors.  Then the sensors will provide proof that the kids are in fact taking brain damaging hits.  Then there will be lawsuits.  Then parents will demand bigger pads, bigger helmets, “no tackle” rules, etc.  But the lawsuits will still come from the unavoidable concussions that will occur when you have people running full speed at each other.  Then the schools are going to decide it’s just not worth the liability.  Then kids will stop playing football and it, including the NFL, will become a relic.

There is no way Flannery played football in HS….

Anyway now we know what happened to Flannery. Maybe he can pull a picture out of you know where and sue the school system he was in for the brain damage.

@unknown, It’s not a few parents decision. Maybe they should make athletes wear helmets in all sports/activities, even band and cheer during football games….
What’s scary is you’re a parent….

The sensor is not a safety piece of equipment. It’s a sensor that hasn’t been certified to do anything. A true indicator would be for the sensor to be on the head, not helmet.

How about the company paying $100K to LCPS to do the study….


Wow is all I can say.  What LCPS is saying is sports are more important than the safety of the kids.  I would yank my kid off the team, or have the parents stand up and fight as 1 against the Board.  All the LCPS sports should be required to use these.  Figure a way for cheerleaders too.  I know at least 5 girls from Tuscarora that have had concussions, its not just football. This thing where sports is so important has to stop and start looking at academics and safety and LCPS is not doing this.  I am so glad I have no kids in LCPS anymore!  Carlos Danger you are probably one of the parents that have a kid on the football team all that matters is playing and winning by any means necessary

I think what the posters below are saying is: the less ways to keep our kids safe the better.

Loudoun County!!

Taxpayers are requiring parents to pay for sports to keep tax rates down. If the school system doesn’t want to pay for sports than they should STFU when parents make decision on the safety of their kids or what equipment they want to contribute to play the game safely. If taxpayers via the school system want to micromanage parenting by regulating sport safety features then I say put your tax dollars where your mouths are and fund high school sports.

Kudos for pulling the sensors. Coaches need to do a better job of how to tackle. Offense, how to lower the shoulder, head up. Poor tackling is causing the brain injurries because the defensive player lunges with his head, not wrapping his arms. You see this mostly in college and NFL.

This was the right decision by LCPS,for many reasons:
1- There is no sanctioning of this product.  Loudoun County High School sports are sanctioned by Virginia High School League (VHSL), which is sanctioned by National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).  Equipment must be NFHS certified now.  If this company does their research and has data and proves their product to NFHS, then it can be added.
2- The company shouldn’t be trying to use it at 1 school, they should have approached the school system.  A parent group shouldn’t be heading this.  When enough data and reserach is out there, i’m sure we will be the first place to jump in. 
3- Coaches do not want this if the competition doesn’t have it.  I don’t want my trainer removing a player because some untested/unresearched/unverified sensor goes off and my player has to leave the game, while my opponent stays on the field and gives them an advantage.  The industry is cut throat and losses mean losing your role as head coach. 
Nice job LCPS

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