JUPITER, Fla. — When the pandemic halted sports, it gave organizers time to think about the future and safety protocols. For the Jupiter Mustangs football program, it led to new helmet caps. They are the first Pop Warner youth program in the state to use them to protect against head trauma.
Amber Hicks, a mother of a Jupiter Mustangs player, said she is excited about the new piece of safety equipment. She said some parents do have concerns about concussions and head trauma. But, she said, the love of the game is also important for the kids.
"We definitely want to see our kids safe," she said. "Maybe this is the first step in, you know, having more people join football."
Coach Brad Caldwell, the president of the Jupiter Mustangs, acknowledged the fear.
"When I took over the Jupiter Mustangs program three years ago, the enrollment was down almost 50%, parents nervous about all the head trauma," he said.
Caldwell decided to add a layer of head protection for practices.
"It's less than a pound," he said. "It's one of those, it just makes sense. You know, why would you not?"
The Jupiter Mustangs will wear Guardian helmet caps over their helmets. Some college teams already use them, he said.
"We are the first youth program in the state of Florida, or the Pop Warner programs, to use them," Caldwell said. "We are going to put them on all kids for practice only. If the other teams do start to adopt this technology, it may make sense to even do it for the lower levels in games as well. To me, the more safety the better, especially at the younger ages."
Dr. Manuel Britto, the medical director of the Pediatric Concussion Center at Palm Beach Children's Hospital, said the choice to play should be up the family, child and physician.
"To say Pop Warner football is a no-go for children, I'm not ready to do that," he said. "I'm ready to say, be intelligent about it."
He said the helmet technology has come a long way, but it is not fail-proof.
"Yes, it's nice to have helmets that can dissipate the force more and more and more, but that won't guarantee you will take concussions out of the equation," Britto said.
He said concussions are a factor when you partake in most team sports.
"(We) should not only be talking about tackle football, but about basketball, soccer and other sports, even flag football," Britto said.
Caldwell said the love of the game is inspiring change to make it safer for all. Now, all the coaches have to take a head safety course.
"If it wasn't for football, I would've never gotten through high school, probably would have never gotten through college," he said. "I never would've gotten my first job and the career that I have today."