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Thursday, August 22, 2013

College Athletes Test New Head Impact Sensor

The University of New Haven Chargers in practice. (Harriet Jones/WNPR)

The University of New Haven Chargers in practice. (Harriet Jones/WNPR)

Members of the University of New Haven women's soccer team are shown how to wear the head sensors. (Harriet Jones/WNPR)

Members of the University of New Haven women’s soccer team are shown how to wear the head sensors. (Harriet Jones/WNPR)

Concussions are a hot topic across all levels of sports, as more coaches and players start to recognize the long-term debilitating effects of repeated head trauma.

Despite the lawsuits against both the NFL and the NCAA, there’s not much data on what kinds of head impacts are dangerous.

One Connecticut school is testing a new head sensor this season that aims to change that.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Harriet Jones of WNPR reports.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. As colleges around the country prepare to start their fall semester, there will be a lot of new athletes on the football fields and a new tool to combat a big issue in sports - the long-term debilitating effects of repeated head trauma, concussions. There's not a whole lot of data on what kind of head impacts are dangerous, so one Connecticut school is testing a new head sensor this season that aims to change that. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WNPR's Harriet Jones reports.


HARRIET JONES, BYLINE: The University of New Haven Chargers take to the field for a practice scrimmage. Inside linebacker Matt Fallico says he tries not to think about what happens to his head during games.

MATT FALLICO: Honestly, I feel if you go in worrying about it, that's when injuries happen. So I feel you should really not think about it.

JONES: But this practice, the first of a new season, is different. Fallico and all of his fellow Chargers are wearing a new sensor inside their helmets, technology developed by Connecticut entrepreneur Dale Hollingsworth.

DALE HOLLINGSWORTH: It's only about six millimeters thick. It's very tiny, and it slips into a small little string band, a little head band, or it slips into a skull cap that you see football players wearing today. And it sits just in the back of your head. You don't even know you're wearing it, and yet it's communicating all the time.

JONES: Communicating via a small antenna to the coach on the sidelines, who gets a real-time measurement on a laptop or iPad of the gravitational or G-force exerted by any head impact that each player receives during a game or practice. Hollingsworth's son, Chad, demonstrates using a sensor mounted on a Styrofoam model.

CHAD HOLLINGSWORTH: The green circle means that the device is communicating. When you activate the system, you'll see if you hit the sensor, it comes on in real time, shows me how hard the impact was, which player got the impact.

JONES: The Hollingsworths are behind Triax Technologies, a Norwalk, Connecticut-based company that's now testing the sensor system at the University of New Haven and several other schools around the country. Dale Hollingsworth says collecting data on head impacts should have an immediate effect on coaching.

HOLLINGSWORTH: Let's give the coaches the opportunity to teach to the data. So if you give a drill, like in soccer and you do a heading drill, and you see two or three players that have a higher G-force range, you can quickly ascertain and look at it and say that technique we need to help them improve their technique.

JONES: For now the system has been developed for organized sports teams, who pay $99 per athlete for a sensor with a unique ID that can track that player's history of head impacts. For a further $50 fee in future seasons, the company will archive all of the data for that player throughout their career. Hollingsworth says he's also about to launch an individual application for younger athletes.

HOLLINGSWORTH: Parents have been asking us, can I get this for my child, I want to keep track. All of a sudden they'll be more educated. When your child comes home and says they've had, you know, they've got a headache and they don't feel good or they're nauseous, you can go and check your data to see how many times they may have hit their head that particular day, and at the same time they have information that the physician or the doctor really would like to have.

JONES: The university's football team and both its men's and women's soccer teams will wear the sensors for every practice and game this season. Athletic director Deborah Chin brought Triax into the school after being approached by the company. She says the technology couldn't be more timely.

DEBORAH CHIN: If you read anything about concussions, what's happening at the NFL, within the NCAA, we're all doing research to find the answers.

JONES: Back on the field, linebacker Matt Fallico says he's still trying not to think about the possibility of injury, but he is glad someone is monitoring what's happening to his head.

FALLICO: If there was an injury and you can kind of go and look back and see if it was a specific play or if it was just a series of plays, you know, so I think it's definitely good. Anything to benefit player safety, I feel like is definitely going in the right direction.

JONES: For HERE AND NOW, I'm Harriet Jones in West Haven.

HOBSON: And still to come, should we be paid for all that data everyone is taking from us? We'll have that discussion in a minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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