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High school coaches OK with standardized helmets

July 29, 2013 Updated: July 29, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Before the first day of contact for football players at Palmer, first-year coach Justin Rich made everyone take off their helmet and read the warning label on the back.

Rich, as he's done with other programs, reads the label aloud so the players know what the helmet does and doesn't do.

"That's one of the best tools that I've got, and I've done it every year I've coached," Rich said. "Before we even talk about tackling we read that warning."

The first sentence of that warning on a Riddell helmet reads, "Warning: No helmet can prevent serious head or neck injuries a player might receive while participating in football."

This season, players in Colorado will wear those helmets and similar ones and those helmets only, no added protection or caps will be allowed as it was in the past.

Recently, the Colorado High School Athletics Association sent out a letter clarifying that no additional padding or caps are permitted in games.

The most popular add-on has been the Guardian Cap, a soft-shell, 7-ounce helmet cover that the company claims reduces impact up to 33 percent. According to the website, more than 8,000 players wore Guardian Caps in 2012.

Rampart coach J.J. Owens had four kids show up to practice with them two seasons ago. Only one player ended up wearing the pad for practice, and even that didn't last long.

"The equipment nowadays is just phenomenal," Owens said. "The kids say it's like wearing pillows on your head."

Responding to an article in The Denver Post about players in Colorado using caps, the CHSAA made it clear they were outlawed.

"The CHSAA ... feels additional information is required ... to make an informed decision on the use of these products," a press release says.

One of the problems is that manufacturers of helmets won't stand behind the helmets' warranties when the pad is added.

A rule from the National Federation of State High School Associations, which writes the rules for high school football, mandates that equipment "... shall be professionally manufactured and not altered to decrease protection ..."

Former Liberty coach Jaron Cohen, now at Hinkley, had a player wear one last year. Cohen said the player had suffered three concussions by his sophomore season before buying a cap.

"He was pretty much told one more and you're done," Cohen said. "He didn't get one while he was wearing it."

But Cohen also pointed out it couldn't be proven that the cap was the reason for avoiding a concussion.

Rod Baker at Sand Creek has been a head coach for 25 years. He's only seen one player with something similar and that was a decade ago.

"If something like that was a fail-safe everybody would be using them," Baker said.

Every coach agreed the best way to avoid injury comes down to education.

"The biggest thing is teaching proper technique and fundamentals," Baker said, "going through the proper procedures, follow the doctor, follow the rules."

Rich, who is part of the American Football Coaches Association High School Committee, has seen the Guardian Caps promoted at coaching clinics. "Even with the Guardian deal," Rich said, "if you tackle incorrectly, if you go down with your head down and eyes not up, you're still going to get injured."

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