Youth football team uses high-tech helmets to track big hits

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MADISON -

As concussion fears grow, participation in youth football leagues has declined.

But a Morris County youth football team has found a way to increase their player count, thanks to technological advances.

The Madison Junior Football league uses football helmets outfitted with sensors that measure the force when a player is hit.

“I feel like big hits are definitely a fun part of the game,” says 14-year-old linebacker Justin Slabaugh. “But they’re also a dangerous part of the game.”

Eighth-grade coach Scott Spelker says that while he thinks the threat of concussions in players is real, he says that coaches take precautions against it.

“I think there is a misconception that we’re just lining kids up for hours and hours a week, and just running them into each other.”

The helmets used by the league have five sensors inside, which send data directly to coaches. If a hit meets a certain threshold, the coach is notified. It's not a concussion test, but the player gets looked at right away by a trainer.

Slabaugh says that it happened to him last week.

"I was blitzing on the line and I go through and I get hit right in the front of the head and the sensor went off,” he says.

The information is logged in a database. This is technology that even the Madison varsity team isn’t using yet.

Madison has also changed tackling technique.  All coaches are certified by USA Football, which includes a three-hour safety class.

"Madison football has seen that our numbers have stayed, if not gone up through this, where a lot of towns can’t say that,” says league president Tom Leck.

The helmets are made by the company Riddell and cost $300. Families pay $200 for the helmets, with the rest covered by donations.

Madison has been using the helmets for the last three years. About a dozen high school teams in New Jersey use them.

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