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Carroll County girls lacrosse coaches, players react to use of protective headgear

Westminster High School girls lacrosse coach John Brown said he’s more of a traditionalist when it comes to the style of play displayed in girls and women’s lacrosse.

The girls’ game is more free-flowing. The ball moves faster. A player’s stick skills might be easier to spot.

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Helmets in girls lacrosse are optional for use during games. But there’s a growing concern between coaches, players, and parents around the country who think making headgear mandatory could reduce the number of head injuries in a fast-growing sport.

However, others think making headgear mandatory would be detrimental to that traditional style of play Brown referenced.

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“Players over the years have expressed disappointment in games when we show up and other teams have several girls wearing helmets,” said Liberty coach Tom Brandel. “I feel like the game gets played sometimes with more dangerous checks with players who are more likely to take these dangerous checks.”

Brandel said if any of his players were to express interest in wearing a helmet, it would be a decision made between the player and their parents.

Last spring, a research team led by Dr. Daniel Herman of University of Florida started to compile injury statistics for high school girls lacrosse players in Florida to compare with non-Florida high school players. The two-year, ongoing study is titled, “The Effect of Helmets on Injury & Player Perceptions in High School Girls’ Lacrosse.”

In 2018, high school girls in Florida were required to wear specially designed headgear, and the hypothesis put forth by researchers is that injury rates among Florida players will be higher than injury rates among non-Florida (non-headgear) players. This hypothesis was based on preliminary findings from a smaller data sample in an earlier study completed in 2017, according to an article on the US Lacrosse website.

“I like the game now,” said Paige Abbott, a senior attacker at South Carroll. “I feel like if we wear helmets, then it would almost be like giving people the freedom to swing and check and it would be getting us closer to the boys’ game.”

South Carroll's Paige Abbott, right, controls the ball as Queen Anne's Kylie Tulowitzky chases algongside during a 2A state semifinal girls lacrosse game at Northeast High School in Pasadena on Friday, May 17.
South Carroll's Paige Abbott, right, controls the ball as Queen Anne's Kylie Tulowitzky chases algongside during a 2A state semifinal girls lacrosse game at Northeast High School in Pasadena on Friday, May 17.(Brian Krista / Carroll County Times)

Men’s and women’s lacrosse are treated as two distinct sports, with the full-body contact that is part of the men’s game requiring the use of headgear, according to an American Society of Testing and Materials news release. However, intentional stick or body contact is considered illegal in the women’s game, thus headgear has always been optional for women.

There are two types of certified headgear players can use, and they must meet ASTM standard guidelines.

“Honestly, I would not be opposed to wearing headgear,” said Century senior midfielder Grace Bruce. “I think it’s a really good idea to prevent players from getting concussions as well as prevent brain damage for those who already have trauma. I feel like the intensity of checks could increase because there’s less of a risk of damaging people’s heads and hitting them because they have that protective gear.

“It adds to the excitement of the game.”

Century's Grace Bruce and South Carroll's Abby Behn during the girls lacrosse match at South Carroll, on Monday.
Century's Grace Bruce and South Carroll's Abby Behn during the girls lacrosse match at South Carroll, on Monday.(Bill Ryan / For Carroll County Times)

Bruce helped the Knights win a state championship as a freshman in 2017, and is a three-time Times first-team all-countian.

Abbott said she hasn’t seen anyone in high school wear a helmet and a player’s choice to wear one doesn’t concern her.

“I think it could go either way because with headgear, people might thing they can either try to go for more dangerous plays like sticking your stick out more for a check or a shot,” Abbott said. “It could also limit people taking quick shots, and headgear might be the thing that prevents you from getting a concussion.”

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Abbott is a returning member of the Cavaliers’ state championship team from 2019, and she earned second-team all-county honors.

“You look at some of the best players in the world and you don’t see them wearing them when playing at that level,” Brown said. “It’s a lot more about skill, not about the check and getting away with being that physical. It’s not super necessary and we can teach girls to play the game without having to resemble the boys.”

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