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With rising concern of football-related brain injuries, two area Minnesota teams are testing out new helmet technology

Football teams at every level are starting practice this month and the topic of the sport’s ties to brain injuries is a more prevalent subject than ever before.

For the first time in this region, two area high school football teams are using new technology to combat those safety concerns.

Stephen-Argyle and Clearbrook-Gonvick -- Minnesota Section 8 9-man programs -- are entering their first season utilizing Riddell InSite helmets, which feature a five-zone sensor in the liner of the helmet that measures a hit’s impact severity and communicates statistics to a handheld monitor.

If a hit’s impact surpasses a preset threshold, an alert can be sent to the monitor for the coaching staff or athletic trainer to initiate sideline protocol of a possible head injury.

The monitor can also later be plugged into a computer to generate detailed reports.

Stephen-Argyle is starting with seven of the helmets and Clearbrook-Gonvick has one.

Riddell said about 100 colleges and 600 high school programs nationwide have used the InSite technology. In Minnesota, 11 high school programs and four colleges are using InSite, including Moorhead, Breckenridge, Perham and Hawley.

Mayville State is the only school in North Dakota that has any InSite helmets, according to Riddell.

Helmets can be a tough cost for schools to absorb, which is one reason teams have a limited number of the helmets with InSite technology. Stephen-Argyle and Clearbrook-Gonvick hope to phase them in over time.

The InSite monitor can be retrofitted into an existing helmet for about $100, according to a Riddell spokesman, but “pricing can depend on a lot of different factors.”

Riddell is the primary helmet of most prep and college programs. The company says more than 90 percent of college football players wear a Riddell helmet.

Stephen-Argyle coach Ethan Marquis said practice habits aimed at reducing contact have helped player safety and the new helmet technology is another positive step.

“I don’t think anything is a cure-all, but it’s a way to gather more data,” Marquis said. “Of course, there’s a heightened awareness about head injuries, there’s no secret about that.

“Our (school) board is very supportive and so is the community. It’s something our AD took the lead on and said it’s something we’d like to try. We’ll see what we can gather from it. This will help to provide more data -- objective, reliable data -- that a trained professional can add to their evaluation.”

Clearbrook-Gonvick is testing the waters with a single helmet, with hopes of adding more in the future.

“It’s too important not to take serious,” Clearbrook-Gonvick coach Casey Kroulik said. “I’m excited to have the technology to see what’s actually happening. More information is good. If it goes well, hopefully we’ll be able to find more funds to additional helmets as well.

“Sometimes you have to go by what the kid is telling you. Sometimes you’ll have a kid tell you he’s fine to keep playing. This is a good direction to better handle things.”

Kroulik plans to use his first helmet on a linebacker who has had migraines that weren’t tied to football.

“We had been a little afraid of trying to differentiate between his regular migraine and a football hit,” Kroulik said.

Perham has used the technology for the past two years. The Yellowjackets, who play in the larger Class AAA level, have about 25 of the InSite helmets.

Kyle Knutson is in his third year as head coach and 12th year with Perham overall.

“We’re headed down the right path as far as safety goes,” he said. “I stress with my parents that we’re putting on helmets that they’re using on Sunday afternoons. We’re making football a safer game.

“First and foremost, it’s for the safety of our players above all. And in recent light of all the negative exposure the sport has got over the last three or four years -- which has trickled down from the NFL -- it’s nice to be able to let parents know that it’s the best equipment available.”

Knutson said his program would like to continue to add InSite helmets every year.

“In a perfect world, any kid ninth-grade through 12th is wearing them,” he said.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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