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A Women's Soccer Team Takes A Step Toward Battling Concussions

Every year roughly twenty-nine thousand young girls in high schools across the country suffer a concussions playing soccer.

The women’s soccer team for St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale is getting ready for a game. Before stepping out on the pitch, the players check their cleats, their shin guards, and their protective head bands.

These are a quarter-inch thick foam that fit similar to old cotton sweatbands or a hairpiece, but thicker around the forehead, temples and back of the head.

St. Thomas women’s soccer coach Carlos Giron made the gear mandatory for his team this year. "We were trying to get it this year to be mandatory for lacrosse and girl’s soccer due to the fact that there was a high percentage of concussions within those two sports and probably the highest in the girls programs," says Giron.

Giron’s players didn’t buy into it right away.

"At first I hated it," says Dallas Dorsey, a senior. "Like I would always complain but now it’s just part of the equipment like shin guards. It’s not a big deal."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that head injuries account for about nine-percent of all injuries in American high school sports. The largest group – with 55,000 concussions – are injured playing football. Female soccer players suffer 29,000 head injuries a year.

The gear used at St Thomas, called the ExoShield, is supposed to absorb the impact of the ball -- or a headbutt or elbow -- to the parts of the head most exposed during a game.

"A lot of it is good marketing. These things have not been evaluated," says Dr. Gillian Hotz. She runs the Concussion Program at the University of Miami. She’s not a fan of the headbands. "I think that we’re giving kids a lot of sense of false confidence and even try and go out there and head the ball harder than they are now because they may have an extra band in there, but that’s not going to prevent them from having a concussion."

The manufacturer, Storelli, says their product is designed to protect against cuts and bruises. But, they’re planning to have their product tested in independent research to see if it’s effective in helping prevent concussions.

The headband didn’t prevent St. Thomas soccer player Sidney Talbot from getting a concussion during a game in December.

"I fell to the ground and tried to get up and start playing and I kind of like loss of vision a little, I couldn’t hear very well, I kind of was just confused, dizzy a little. I asked to come off the field, and then came off the field and sat down right away because I was spinning a little," says Talbot.

The ball hit her on the crown of her head, the part not covered by the head gear. Talbot had to go through weeks of treatment before getting the medical clearance to return to the field.

Dr. Hotz says the injuries don’t just affect a kid’s performance on the field. "Those sort of things you have to take seriously because she’s not going to be able to pay attention in class, she’s not going to get her homework done, and all of this is going to spiral downward," she says.

Hotz was one of the driving forces behind the 2012 Florida Youth Concussion Law. It says young athletes can’t return to the playing field too soon after a head injury.

On this night, St. Thomas was playing Cypress Bay High. The Cypress Bay students do not use the head bands. Coach Kate Dwyer says that’s mostly due to cost.

"I don’t mind if it’s mandatory if they’re going to pay for it, the state, I don’t think you can ask kids, and we do come from a very affluent area but the Fort Lauderdale highs, the other inner city programs, they can’t afford that. So if it’s going to be mandated it needs to be supplied by the FHSAA," says Swyer

Money’s not the problem at private schools like St. Thomas.

Ted Dorsey has two daughters in the game. He watches Bella and Dallas with a twinge of concern. He says, even with the headbands, he’s still worried. "It’s more of a precautionary thing, it’s not a hundred percent. It’s just that the sport is a little more violent than people think. I’m concerned, I really am. I read a lot about it. Is there an answer, I don’t know, all I can do is pray."

The Florida High School Athletic Association made helmets mandatory for women’s lacrosse this year. There has not been any proposal brought forward to make these headbands mandatory for women’s soccer in Florida high schools.