The Auburn Eagles, a local youth team consisting of 6- to 8-year-old boys, has participated in the study since August. The helmets of the child football players are instrumented with custom 12 accelerometer arrays that measure how a child’s head responds to impact. Each time a player impacts his head, data is recorded and wirelessly downloaded to a computer on the sideline.
The technology is similar to what Virginia Tech has used since 2003 to instrument its collegiate football team. “The research conducted with the Virginia Tech football team has led to a better understanding of head impacts in football and how they relate to concussions,” says Stefan Duma, the Virginia Tech professor of biomedical engineering and department head of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering Sciences that directs this project., which contains the first safety rating system ever available for adult football helmets (STAR Evaluation System). Similar developments for youth football are anticipated from the current study with the Auburn Eagles.
“Based on eight years of studying head impacts experienced by Virginia Tech football players, we were able to quantify exposure for adult football players relative to impact location, severity, and frequency,” Duma says. “Unfortunately, we cannot translate the adult exposure to the youth helmets because the impact conditions of youth football are completely unknown. To solve this problem, we are applying the same approach that we have used with the Virginia Tech football team to a youth football team,” Duma says.
The instrumentation wasn’t compatible with the older helmets that were initially provided for the youth team, so Virginia Tech purchased new helmets for the entire team. “The kids are very excited about wearing the same technology in their helmets that the Virginia Tech football team has worn over the last eight years,” says Ray Daniel, the graduate student whose master’s thesis will be focused on the study.