Sunshine State Stunner - Florida's Helmet Mandate
On June 10, the Florida High School Athletic Association's board of directors voted to require mandatory use of helmets by girls' lacrosse players starting in 2015, a controversial decision that has stirred up one of the sport's longest running debates.
Ann Carpenetti, US Lacrosse's vice president of games operations, called Florida's ruling, which did not specify the type of helmets or specifications of them, "short-sighted and vague."
Women's lacrosse advocates in Florida also spoke out against the mandate, calling it premature, especially as US Lacrosse nears the finish line of a three-year effort working with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) on a sport-specific headgear standard. The collaborative process, based on research and data, has included scientists, equipment manufacturers, and representatives of lacrosse rule-making organizations. A draft standard for women's lacrosse headgear is up for a vote by ASTM members this fall.
“I don’t think this is the last we are going to hear about this.”—Vero Beach (Fla.) coach Shannon Dean
The FHSAA mandate did not specify what types of helmets must be worn or the specifications of them. Current US Lacrosse rules for national high school girls' lacrosse allow for soft headgear, subject to approval by game official.
The FHSAA forged forward with the mandate despite US Lacrosse's request to withhold any decisions until after the headgear standard has been approved.
"The national governing body has devoted a lot of money studying the issue and has not mandated it, and the FHSAA steps in, first one in the nation, to say we are going with it without any warning," said Shannon Dean, coach of nine-time state champion Vero Beach High. "That's where I get concerned. There are a lot of issues with it, financial issues of buying the helmets. And the FHSAA goes by US Lacrosse rules, but this isn't a US Lacrosse rule, so how do we say our gear abides by US Lacrosse rules?"
Ponte Vedra High coach Kelly Dotsikas said the FHSAA should be focused on education and training as the path to a safer sport.
"We have non-lacrosse people making lacrosse decisions when we already have a governing body," Dotsikas said. "How about the FHSAA mandates that all officials be trained by US Lacrosse? Now that would make sense."
US Lacrosse and ASTM have pursued a women's lacrosse-specific headgear standard that would be consistent with the sport's current rules. Among factors in the development of a standard are ventilation and compatibility with existing protective eyewear. With headgear being optional, comfort, fit and ease of use also have been considered in the draft standard.
- The exterior surface of the headgear must be flexible, confirmed by using the drop apparatus, a quarter-inch rod on a flat modular elastomeric programmer (MEP) anvil and contact paste.
- During testing, the peak acceleration of any impact shall not exceed 80g. The helmet shall remain intact with no visible cracks or damage through the thickness of the outer covering.
- Materials coming into contact with the wearer, except replaceable padding, shall not undergo significant loss of strength or flexibility, or other physical change as a result of perspiration, oil or grease from the wearer's skin and hair.
- Each manufacturer will test independently and regularly each model and size of headgear offered for sale. The independent laboratory will be accredited by the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) for this specification.
"US Lacrosse has been working with ASTM to develop a consensus headgear standard for women's lacrosse based on the results of research and the importance of appropriately balancing player safety with game integrity," Carpenetti said.
Since the initial FHSAA ruling, US Lacrosse has implemented a call to action among coaches, athletics directors and other lacrosse constituents in Florida to contact members of the FHSAA board of directors, asking them to reconsider their June 10 mandate. An online petition to overturn the decision had gained more than 3,200 signatures by June 22. The board's next meeting is Sept. 28-29.
A similar situation occurred in February 2013, when a pair of Maryland state delegates introduced a bill in the state assembly to require youth and high school girls' players to wear helmets. The proposed legislation was later drastically modified and effectively pulled after US Lacrosse input. It changed to requiring mandatory sport-specific education, training and certification for youth and high school coaches consistent with US Lacrosse curricula.
"I don't think this is the last we are going to hear about this," Dean said.
This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Start your subscription by joining US Lacrosse today!
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