Wake Forest University studying youth football helmets

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Doctors at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have received a grant to help them conduct a study which could shape youth football forever.

The $3.8 million grant will allow them to put sensors in the helmets of 100-130 youth football players, 8 to 12-year-olds, and monitor the hits they take throughout an entire season. They will also be looking at their brains before and after the season.

“We’re more looking at what’s the effect of all these impacts that do not result in concussions. Repeated impacts over the course of the season,” said Dr. Joseph Maldjian.

Dr. Maldjian says some of the hits they see in youth football can be as impactful as ones they see in high school and even the college levels.

“These sensors are able to measure all the impacts that they’re experiencing, the rotations, accelerations, etc.,” said Dr. Maldjian.

The money will also allow them to create a control group, where they will monitor youth athletes who do not participate in contact sports, such as swimming. They will then compare the two groups at the conclusion of their data collection.

Some programs are seeing less participation from youth football players.

“Some parents are keeping their children out of football because they fear a concussion,” said Antonio Davis, a coach and public relation official for the Kernersville Raiders. “As you move up each level, kids become more aggressive, they get bigger, they get faster. So those impacts really need to be monitored.”

Davis has a son who plays football himself, but says he has full trust in the coaching staff in charge of making sure his son is playing the game safely.

“If I had any reservations about the coaching staff, or the organization, he would not play football,” said Davis.

Davis says while coaching, he uses an app, called Concussion Recognition & Response, to evaluate players when they take big blows.

“It’s scary. Because you want to make sure you do the right thing,” said Davis.

Yet, some parents believe their kids are safe playing the game.

“I wouldn’t pull mine out, they love the game. Like I said, we just make sure we’re well educated on the risks and things that may happen and try to play the game safely,” said Rashanna Liles, of Winston-Salem, who has a 17-year-old and a 10-year-old playing football this year.

As for Dr. Maldjian, when asked if he would let his children play football, he said, “at this point, if my kids were interested in playing youth football, I would certainly let them play.”

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