Cover your heads? Recent head injuries prompt discussion on mandatory headgear

A pair of Fargo South High School girls soccer players ended up at the hospital last week with severe concussions. A few days later, a Fargo North player received a sizable welt when she was elbowed in the head during a game.

Katie Felch
Katie Felch of Fargo South, left, and Alyssa Dehne of Fargo North collide as they try for ball possession during the Friday game at Fargo South. Dave Wallis / The Forum

A pair of Fargo South High School girls soccer players ended up at the hospital last week with severe concussions. A few days later, a Fargo North player received a sizable welt when she was elbowed in the head during a game.

Similar stories could be found each week across the country. More than ever, soccer has become a contact sport.

A recent study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, found that girls and boys soccer players suffered about as many concussions combined in high school athletics as football players.

With head-to-head collisions happening on an almost game-to-game basis, is it finally time for a national mandate for protective headgear in prep soccer?

The jury is still out.


"We are monitoring it," said Mark Koski, the Assistant Director of the National Federation of High School Associations. "Our soccer rules committee looks at this topic (of protective headgear for soccer) each and every year at its annual meeting. It's a big topic that we need to monitor."

The bizarre back-to-back incidents during Fargo South's girls soccer game against Shanley on May 4 illustrate just how physical the game can be.

During the game, Bruins midfielder Emma Freeman suffered a concussion after a mid-air collision with a Shanley player. The Deacons player then fell on top of Freeman.

It was Freeman's third concussion this year. She sustained two during the hockey season.

Moments after play resumed, Lexi Maucort fainted on the field from a blow to the head earlier in the game.

Neither girl was wearing headgear.

"After I saw them both walking in the hallways of the emergency room, I didn't know if soccer was worth all of this," Maucort's mother, Kristi, told The Forum last week.

Local coaches say they can see the pros and cons of using headgear. However, they aren't sure a mandate is the answer.


The North Dakota High School Activities Association allows headgear in soccer. It is not required.

"These are kind of freak things that happen," South girls coach Michael Breker said. "If kids want to wear headgear, I would be more than supportive. You can go through as much technique as you can (to avoid head-to-head collisions), but you can't account for 100 percent of things that happen. It they chose to wear it, it would be a great idea."

"I don't like it as a mandate," North girls coach Cordell Sinding added. "I think there needs to be better equipment, in other words, the soccer ball. If you use a cheaper ball and play games with it, it's going to cause problems if someone hits it and it hits someone in the head."

Sinding said he believes protective headgear should be mandatory for players with a history of concussions.

FIFA, soccer's world governing body, began permitting the use of headgear in 2003. Since then, thousands of players from youth to the pros have worn head protection. Products range from headband-style to a more substantial padded headpiece that covers a larger portion of the forehead and crown of the head.

However, widespread use of the headgear has been slow to materialize.

Some coaches aren't sold that the products make a difference in absorbing the force of head-to-head collisions, Sinding said.

Some point to fashion and tradition and the price of the products. Some protective soccer headgear can cost around $30.


Some say headgear limits a player's ability to control their head properly to guide a headed ball.

"We're all about traditions, but safety comes first," Koski said. "There have been some negative comments in regards to some people not being used to it. Head control is huge within the sport. Headers are very, very important."

The Center for Injury Research and Policy study found girls soccer players suffered 29,167 concussions in 2008. Boys soccer players reported 20,929 concussions.

Prep football totaled 50,007.

A study by Canada's McGill University, released by the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2007, was the first to conclude that soft headgear significantly decreased the number of concussions in soccer players.

The study of 250 children age 12 to 17 found that 53 percent of those without soccer headgear suffered concussions, compared to 27 percent for those who wore protective gear.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness Executive Committee concluded this year that there is insufficient evidence to determine if soft headwear can prevent head injuries.

Sinding said more high school players would likely start wearing headgear if they saw it used more in college and professional soccer.


"Is a sport really worth a child's future?" Sinding said. "It's definitely not. They have a whole life in front of them."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562

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