Tech innovations are improving high school athletics, from football helmets to stadium lighting

Science and technology have improved many things in sports.

And they will continue to do so in the future.

The Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business spoke with some Tri-City area high school athletic directors and a football coach about what science and technology have done for sports.

Here’s what they had to say:

football helmets

Over the past decade, scientists have discovered that a number of former professional and college football players suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease, after cumulative helmet blows.

This led to changes in the rules of helmet-to-helmet, or head-with-a-helmet kicking, which were instituted from the professional ranks through to youth football.

In football, helmets are the most important piece of equipment.

Until the 1970s, high school football players wore helmets with a suspension helmet inside. This did not prevent a player’s head from hitting the top inside the helmet and injuring himself.

Soon foam was added. But the technology continues to improve with materials that fit tightly around a player’s head to provide protection.

Today’s headsets are vastly improved over what gamers wore 10 years ago.

“We know that many brands adapt differently,” said Anna Harris, athletic director of Kennewick High School. “Schutt and Riddell are the best helmets we can get.”

These brands score high with what’s called the Virginia Tech test, in which helmets are hit from all angles and rated a 3, 4, or 5 (5 being the highest) for safety.

Most schools in Tri-City purchase 12 to 14 new helmets each year, mixing Schutt and Riddell brands as they may fit a player differently. A comparable number are discarded because they are no longer safe. Helmets typically last eight to ten years.

With better materials in helmets, prices have gone up.

“Helmet prices have gone from $200 to $500 over the past 10 years,” Harris said. “All the equipment has become expensive, like everything else. A Baden volleyball is $75 now. So it’s not just football gear.

The largest high schools in the Tri-City area have between 130 and 200 athletes participating in football each year. So the prices can add up.

Mike Edwards, athletic director of Richland High School, said state rules for high school football require football teams to send all used football helmets, after the season is over, to a company that refurbishes helmets. This should happen every two years.

“But we’re lucky that our high school does it every year,” Edwards said.

Larry Usher, the athletic director of Hermiston High School (as well as the athletic director in charge of the two local colleges), said Hermiston was going a different route.

“If you buy helmets, they have to be recertified every two years,” Usher said. “By renting helmets every year, they are recertified, get new face masks and are good to go. It ends up costing us more. But the coaching staff felt it was better to do that, especially when it comes to safety.

Concussion Protocol

Prior to the start of the season, in any high school sport, athletes undergo cognitive testing, so teams have a baseline of each athlete.

If an athlete takes a knock, coaches can neurologically and cognitively test them on the spot.

Randy Affholter is the head football coach at Kennewick High School. He led the Lions to the Class 3A State Semifinals in 2019 and the State Finals in 2021.

Like most coaches, Affholter doesn’t mess with a player’s health.

“If something happens during a game or practice, they are tested to see where they are compared to their original baseline test,” Affholter said. “We have a trainer who does the tests. But if there is any doubt, we put them on the bench. Kids are competitive and they will try to get back into the game. But if there are questions, we write them down.

Usher said the Hermiston Athletic Recall Club bought soft shells to put on the outside of football players’ helmets when it seemed like too many concussions were happening during practices.

It helped me. But coaching remains the most important part of it all.

“The safety measures being taught right now, like attacking with your head held high, really help,” Usher said. “Obviously the most important thing is student safety.”

online video

It used to be that high school football coaches had a big morning chore after Friday night games. They would drive to meet the opponent’s coach the next week to swap film of the match.

For local coaches, that meant spending Saturday mornings driving to hangouts such as rest areas near Mattawa and restaurants in Yakima.

But a few years ago, a company called Hudl put the process online with a program accessible with an email address and a Hudl account.

From now on, no one has to travel on Saturday mornings.

“My wife is a pretty happy person with that,” Affholter said.

Schools can subscribe to different levels of Hudl, the most basic being the film itself.

During the pandemic, when most fans weren’t allowed in gyms or stadiums, schools were broadcasting games live.

Harris said Kennewick High offers a package where coaches can pull video straight from the live stream, during a contest, and show their athletes a game or two of what’s going on in-game.

“And that’s for almost every sport,” she said.

Hudl is one of the most important things for Affholter when it comes to technology.

In his first season at Kennewick, his offensive and defensive lines formed a platoon, meaning no lineman played on both sides of the line. They were either attacking or defending.

So with a big TV screen on the Lions sideline, his coaches could show videos of the games the athletes had just played in to review what went right or wrong.

“A lot of our assistant coaches will also make cuts from the last game,” he said. This means they can put together clips from the game that only involve a certain athlete – or maybe something from the opponent the athlete will face next week.

“Kids still have email accounts,” Affholter said. “The coaches then give them the cups and the kids can watch the movie in their free time. I think that’s one of the biggest benefits of technology.

A coach can track how much time a player spends studying this movie. So there are no shortcuts.

timing systems

Tracking the running speed of athletes has become more digital.

The Kennewick, Pasco and Richland school districts each have a new timing system, which their schools share.

“You don’t see 10 stopwatches at a track finish line anymore,” said Edwards of Richland.

It provides more accurate times, which ultimately gives college recruiters a better idea of ​​what a kid can do.

Phone apps

For athletic directors such as Harris and Edwards — who spend an inordinate amount of time at school sporting events — technology has made their lives easier.

Harris manages the lights at Lampson Stadium from an app on her phone, ensuring they are turned on or off as needed. The same app also controls the lights in the gym.

Every Monday morning, she can see what her home sporting events are for the coming week and schedule those events from her phone.

Fran Rish Stadium in Richland is undergoing a major renovation, which will give Edwards the same ability to control the lighting and adjust it to the different activities taking place there.

“I can control the lighting,” he says. “And the lighting would be different for athletics than for football. We could even turn them off at half-time for a half-time performance if needed.

About Rachel Gooch

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