Schools, clubs turn attention to head injuries

Schools are adding protective shells to football helmets which can absorb the impact of a hit.

Calvary Athletic Association will use ProTech shells over their football helmets this year. It’s one of the initiatives the club will take to prevent concussions. PHOTO: JOE CUNNINGHAM

Football has given a lot to John Zeglinski.

The Archbishop Ryan High School grad used the skills he learned playing for Calvary Athletic Association to earn a scholarship to Wake Forest, and he continued to play the game at the semipro level after he earned his degree.

Then he watched his three sons — Zack, Joe and Sammy — excel in the sport during their days at Calvary and beyond.

Zack played at Penn Charter and at Penn State. Joe, the current coach of the Ryan boys basketball team, played for the school before opting to play basketball in college. And Sammy, too, played at Penn Charter before sticking with basketball for college.

That’s why Zeglinski wants football to remain a viable option for schools, youth organizations and kids. But more than giving them a chance to play the sport, he wants to help them stay safe while playing.

Injuries, particularly head injuries, have plagued football. And as more is learned about the complex issues surrounding concussions, safety concerns continue to mount.

That’s why Zeglinski got involved with Defend Your Head, a Chester County-based company that promotes safety in football.

“Hits happen on every play, and for guys like the running backs and linemen, and defensive guys who have to watch the subconcussive hits because they add up,” said Zeglinski, the vice president of business development for Defend Your Head. “I love football, it’s given so much to me. My sons played it, I played it for years. Safety is so key, and this makes it safer.”

The product the company launched is ProTech, a soft shell that slides over the helmet. It has been tested by schools and universities, and it serves as a bumper of sorts to absorb much of the impact.

The softness of the shell helps deflect the impact that typically went directly to the helmet and the head.

“It will help with the big hits, but it will also help with the hits that take place every play,” Zeglinski said. “Penn State did a study, and they have doctors and trainers, they won’t do anything without fully checking these things out and they were very positive that it reduces force.”

The ProTech slides over the helmet and has three clips that hold it in place. According to Zeglinski, unless you’re looking at the helmet close up, you wouldn’t notice the shell. But the results have been very noticeable.

Last year, Roman Catholic and Archbishop Ryan wore the devices. This year, more schools are expected to wear them and Calvary’s football teams will don the equipment.

“Calvary has been such a big part of my life, I played there and my sons all played there, and my daughter played sports there, too,” Zeglinski said. “Joe Cunningham, the football director at Calvary, is very serious about preventing head injuries. He is doing everything to make it safer.”

Safety isn’t a priority for Cunningham, it’s the top priority. That’s why he has taken steps this year to emphasize safety.

“Our numbers were down, and when I talked to people, injury concerns was the biggest thing,” Cunningham said. “We signed up for these shells because if they help just one kid prevent a concussion, it would be worth it. We just want to be safer.”

Cunningham has done other things for his program to ensure safety, with the primary focus on cutting down concussions.

The St. Joe’s Prep grad worked with Hawks coach Gabe Infante for a Heads Up Football Program, which teaches youngsters the proper way to hit, run and tackle to minimize concussions.

Nothing will completely eliminate concussions from the game, but the steps will ensure the injuries are kept to a minimum.

“I’ve been around football for 45 years, coaching at the high school level and youth teams, and I think football is safer now than ever,” said Cunningham, whose football club has about 150 players throughout four teams. “Before, when you took a blow to the head, they called it a ding, you sat out a play. Now it’s taken so much more seriously, and we want to be the safest program out there.”

According to Zeglinski, they’re on their way.

And while doing it for his high school and youth organization means a lot, he hopes many other places follow their lead.

“These (ProTech) help without a doubt,” Zeglinski said. “With all of the efforts to stop concussions and CTE and concussions, a lot of teams are signing up for this. I’m really happy Ryan has it and Calvary has it, but I want to see every organization and school cut down on injuries. Football is a great sport and if it can be made safer, it’s good for everyone.” ••

For details on the shells, visit defendyourhead.com