By MAX BENNETT
Capital News Service
A House of Delegates bill that would have established a pilot program to add concussion sensors to football equipment at high schools throughout the state died in subcommittee this session without a vote.
The bill would have required each county to select a high school that would equip all football players’ helmets with sensors to alert athletic staff of potentially concussion-inducing hits.
Lead sponsor Delegate Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, has said he hoped the bill would allow for better evaluation of the number of impacts high school football players sustain, as well as ensure that adults know when potentially dangerous impacts occur.
But the bill faced opposition from school officials and doctors, who raised concerns about the sensors’ safety and the measure’s requirement that every county require a school to participate.
Delegate Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery, who chairs the House Ways and Means education subcommittee, said her panel passed several bills aimed at safety this session. But this bill was different, she said.
“There wasn’t as much of a need as the people who make the sensors wanted them used,” she said.
The bill stated the pilot program would not start unless sensors were donated, not purchased by schools. The local school boards would choose the manufacturer they wanted to use, Cardin said.
John Woolums, director of government relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said attaching the sensors to helmets could impede helmet safety, making them “no longer conform with safety standards.”
Greg Merril, CEO of the Bethesda-based impact sensor manufacturer Brain Sentry, said their sensors do not affect helmet safety.
The Maryland State Department of Education, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association and local school boards brought concerns about the bill to MABE. “The other flaw from our point of view was that pilot programs are ideally discretionary for the systems that want to participate,” Woolums said. A narrower, more discretionary bill could have received their support, he said.
The medical community also voiced concerns.
Dr. Robert Graw, CEO of Righttime Medical Care, a provider in Maryland with specialties in sports injuries and concussions, said the technology used in impact sensors, such as an LED turning red upon a high-force impact, does not point to specific conclusions. “Nobody has shown that that light going off and G forces on a growing brain [have] a certain outcome,” Graw said.
He said each player’s physiology affects concussion vulnerability.
Cardin said recently there is a need for more awareness in the treatment and diagnosis of concussions.
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association released a statement in March underscoring how widespread the health risks from concussions are. It said about 3.8 million concussions occur each year in the U.S. as a result of sport and physical activity. And, it said, sports-related concussions account for 46 percent of all concussions in teens 14 to 19 years old.
Recent studies at a number of universities have centered on how helmets can help reduce the risk of concussions. A recent study by Virginia Tech looked into the types of helmets that could best reduce head impact.
Staff writers Daniel Gallen and Rachel Walther contributed to this report.