Soft-shell helmets trending in youth flag football amid head injuries

Author: Nikole Killion/ CBS News
Published: Updated:
Credit: CBS News.

Flag football is becoming one of the fastest growing youth sports in the country. A report from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association shows over 6.5 million people play.

Many consider it to be a safer alternative to tackle, but some leagues are now requiring kids to use helmets.

“I don’t really remember a lot,” said 8-year-old Gabriel Crout, who suffered a head injury playing flag football.

Gabriel doesn’t recall much about being injured, but his mom does. She watched as he was rushed by helicopter to the hospital with a concussion after colliding head-on with a teammate during a flag football game.

“I grabbed him by the face and held him close and said, ‘Can you hear me?’” said, Somer Crout, Gabriel’s mother. “And his eyes rolled back, and he started to seize and pass out.”

Reggie Barksdale is the commissioner for the Southern Maryland Youth Flag Football League. While Gabriel’s mom witnessed his injury, Barksdale watched Somer’s reaction.

“She had that look of fear, and I didn’t have the answers to give her,” Barksdale said.

The incident prompted Barksdale to make a change. For the first time this season, Barksdale is mandating soft-shell helmets for all youth league players.

“The first couple of weeks was rough, but now everybody knows they need their helmet,” Barksdale said.

The helmets these players are using are among several that were tested by Virginia Tech, which released its first ever safety ratings for flag football headgear this year.

Dr. Barry Miller is one of the researchers at Virginia Tech’s helmet lab.

“We are simulating head to head contact,” Miller said.

At the lab, researchers rank models to evaluate which ones reduce concussion risk. A five-star rating is the best a helmet can receive.

“Concussions, when that head-to-head impact happens, you know, head accelerations are going to occur,” Miller said. “If we can reduce those by 70 percent or more, than that kind of elicits the five-star rating.”

The Texas State 7on7 Organization has become the first statewide group in the country to require soft-shell helmets for players across the board.

To check out the latest helmet safety ratings, visit the Virginia Tech helmet lab website.

The new youth league policy is having an impact on the field.

“We’ve had a few collisions, but each kid bounces back up,” Barksdale said. “So after I see that, I feel good about my decision.”

Gabriel said he wishes he had a helmet last year.

“It would have probably just been a little cut and could have put a Band-Aid on it and kept playing,” Gabriel said.

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