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8/17/2012 8:00:00 AM
Football turns to Guardian Caps to prevent concussions
Team will wear protective padding during practices
Lakeland football players wear a protective covering over their helmets during practice. The device, called a Guardian Cap, is designed to prevent and reduce the severity of concussions. Bryan Rose photograph
Lakeland football players wear a protective covering over their helmets during practice. The device, called a Guardian Cap, is designed to prevent and reduce the severity of concussions.
Bryan Rose photograph

Bryan Rose

The threat of concussions looms over every high school football practice across the nation and it’s no different for the Lakeland Union High School football team.
Medical findings of how damaging concussions can be and lawsuits by former NFL players have brought the issue to national prominence.
In the midst of all this, the Thunderbird football team staff is being proactive about the issue, even if it leads to an odd sight for those driving past the Lakeland practice field.
“The only drawback that I can think of is that they look funny,” head coach Mike Mestelle said.
Mestelle is referring to the Guardian Caps on the helmets of each of the Lakeland players as they practice.
Guardian Caps are a padded cap that goes on the outside of a football helmet that is designed reduce the impact of collisions and help reduce or eliminate concussions.
Mestelle first got a look at the device during a coaches meeting last spring.
“We were on lunch break one day and we decided to walk through the vendor area and we walked past a booth that had the Guardian Caps,” he said. “It looked so big that we walked past it, stopped, looked back again and decided we had to go check it out.”
After talking with the representative Mestelle knew he wanted this for his team and was reminded of the use of outside cushions in the NFL, by Buffalo Bills special teams player Steve Kelso.
“He wore an extra pad on his helmet and you could tell because his helmet was bigger than everyone else,” Mestelle said. “But he had issues with concussions and he later credited the extra padding for allowing him to play four more years when otherwise he may have had to retire.”
While the padded helmet did not catch on in the NFL, the new awareness of the devastating effects of concussions has caused a rebirth.
“So it is an idea that has been around for a while but you just haven’t seen it a whole lot,” Mestelle said. “But with the big concern of concussions, companies are starting to add exterior pads. So not only are you getting more interior padding with better quality, by padding the outside, you are reducing the impact and limiting the chances for concussions.”
The Thunderbird will wear the Guardian Caps for practices only. Studies show that is where most concussions occur.
“That makes sense since you are in practice more times than in games,” Mestelle said. “And you are doing drills where you are intentionally colliding with other players where in a game you might not see as much contact.”
In addition to preventing concussions, Mestelle said having the padded helmet will hopefully reduce the severity if a concussion does occur.
“If somebody does get a head injury, you would hope that with two soft helmets it would lessen the degree of the hit,” the coach said. “Hopefully it will reduce the number of concussions but you also hope it reduces the severity of the concussion.”
And that has parents of the players excited to see the school being proactive.
“The people happiest about this are the parents,” Mestelle said. “Of course, the parents are concerned about the safety and the health of their players on the field and excited about us trying something to help make us safer.”
As for the players, Mestelle said he has not heard any complaints.
“I don’t think they notice,” Mestelle said. “We put them on the first day and we put them on every kid. They don’t weigh a lot, they are only six ounces. And they don’t block your vision. The person wearing it doesn’t even know they have it on. The only way you know someone is wearing one is by seeing it on their head.”
Outfitting every player with a Guardian Cap was made possible by the Football Booster Club, which paid for most of the cost of the caps.
“The players pay $10 which is less than a quarter of the cost for the cap,” Mestelle said. “We kicked around some ideas of how we are going to use them. Should we just put them on kids who have had concussions before? But we decided to put them on every kid.”
That was where the booster club stepped in to help out.
“It worked out real nice,” Mestelle said. “And that is one thing about our booster club is that they support us in many things. And safety is our top priority so they help us out with safety first before having all the bells and whistles and the fancy stuff.”

UW Study
Lakeland will also participate in a UW-Madison study regarding concussions.
“It is a little bit more paperwork for the coaching staff but we are going to help them with gathering data,” Mestelle said. “They are tracking things like helmet style, positions, age groups and trying to get more and more data on why concussions happen.”
This will also give Lakeland a look at how well the Guardian Caps are working.
“Studies have shown that about 10 to 15 percent of your team will suffer a concussion at some point during the season,” Mestelle said. “We have usually about 100 kids so that is 10 to 15 kids with concussions and we have been right in that area.”
Mestelle said the study will give Lakeland a good look at how the Guardian Caps work since they are one of the few in the state to use them.
“I don’t know of any other team in Wisconsin who are wearing them,” the coach said. “It will be interesting to see if we have fewer concussions with the Guardian Cap than a school that doesn’t use the Guardian Cap.”
Until the data comes out and the caps become more widely used, Mestelle said his team and coaching staff will continue to answer the questions that pop up as people visit practices.
“There have been a couple of people who have come by practice and said, ‘What do you guys have on your heads there?’” Mestelle said. “We explain it to them and once we do that, they think it is a pretty good idea.”
Bryan Rose may be reached via email at sports@lakelandtimes.com.

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, September 15, 2012
Article comment by: Barry Ewald

I want to add my congratulations to Coach Mestelle for being proactive with regard to head injuries in football. The recent studies which show such a significant relevance of violent contact to long term injuries must be addressed. Coach Mestelle shows the good sense to be part of the solution.

Posted: Monday, August 20, 2012
Article comment by: Guardian Caps

As a new company, Guardian Caps does not claim to prevent or reduce concussions. We know through testing that the Guardian can reduce the impact of a blow to the head, but we have not tested for concussion rate. There will be statistics in the future regarding concussion rate, including the findings from the UW-Madison study. We applaud Coach Mestelle for being a leader in safety with the hope that the reduced impact might lead to a reduction in injuries. Questions and concerns about the Guardian can be sent to sales@guardiancaps.com

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