By Tim Curtis
Capital News Service
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Athletic department heads in a number of Maryland public school jurisdictions say they aren’t in any rush to start attaching sensors to football helmet sensors as a tool to alert them to potential concussions.
In phone and email interviews with CNS, Maryland counties’ supervisors of athletics cited concerns about the sensors’ value and worries about voiding the manufacturer’s warranty of the football helmets the sensors would attach to.
“Adding anything to the helmet will void the warranty,” said Jim Rodriguez, supervisor of athletics for Carroll County.
Ken Zorbach, Howard County’s supervisor of athletics, said he’s also worried about voiding helmet warranties, adding the county doesn’t have money for more equipment. But he said he has additional concerns.
“We’re worried about kids lighting each other up” to get a reaction, he said. Also, their effectiveness has not yet been proven, he said.
Dr. William Beattie, Montgomery County’s supervisor of athletics, shared that concern. “They have not been thoroughly tested, and their value has not been definitively established,” he wrote in an email. Helmet sensors have not been recommended by any of the sanctioning agents the school system typically relies on for advice, he said.
Greg Merril, CEO of Brain Sentry, said his company’s sensors are an important tool in helping to prevent traumatic brain injury. He said the helmet warranty is a non-issue.
“We offer all of our customers a replacement warranty,” he said. “If the [helmet] warranty is not honored due to our sensor being on the helmet, and if the issue that led to the helmet failure is related to our sensor, we will honor the warranty. We will replace the helmet and cover the cost of replacing the helmet.”
During the last session of the Maryland General Assembly, Delegate Jon Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, introduced a bill to start a pilot program to test helmet sensors in county school football programs. But the bill died in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Ray Leone, president of the Maryland PTA, supported the bill last spring, but was tentative about that support, he said.
“We mostly supported it as a conversation starter, to give a baseline point to start from,” Leone said. “But we felt there were serious concerns from the funding side of it.”
Leone said he is not aware of plans to try to pass a helmet sensor bill in the 2015 session of the General Assembly. Cardin lost a primary bid for attorney general and won’t be returning to the Statehouse.
“I haven’t seen any helmet issues on the horizon,” Leone said.
Many of the dozen Maryland school systems that responded to phone calls and emails from CNS said they weren’t sure how they would respond if a parent independently wanted to put a sensor on a child’s helmet.
Some, like Paul Edwards, Garrett County’s supervisor of athletics, said decisions would be handled by each school’s athletic director. He said sensors would probably be allowed.
Kevin Hook, supervisor of athletics for Calvert County, said he would probably have to check with the county’s law office, but he would try to accommodate parents’ wishes.
But Beattie, Montgomery County’s supervisor of athletics, said that he doubts they would be allowed.
“We would need to have compelling evidence — not guesses or theory — that the sensor contributes to the student’s safety and welfare,” he wrote. “And if that were the case, then we would probably have all students wear them.”