Football helmets monitor impacts
Hortonville’s $20,000 system tackles parents’ concussion fears
By Scott Bellile
As concussions garner debate in the football world, Hortonville High School is doing its part to protect young players and keep concerned families from pulling out of the sport.
This fall the Polar Bears step onto the gridiron every Friday night with a high-tech lifeline inside their helmets. In the words of Jen Kalwitz, mother of senior linebacker Blake Kalwitz, the cutting-edge Riddell InSite Response System is “one more set of eyes of the field” to aid the athletic trainer and coaches.
Athletic trainer Megan Lee said Riddell InSite records impacts on five key areas of the football helmet. Sideline staff receive instant alerts through a remote in their pocket if a player has been cracked too hard. They can then react appropriately, which could be correcting the player’s form or pulling him out of the game.
Teens are notorious for hiding their head injuries, Polar Bears co-head coach Tom Kolosso said, because they don’t want the physical trainer to pull them out of the game. Using this technology, players are unable to hide a hard collision from the staff.
“The system is very reliable every time there’s been a significant hit,” Kolosso said.
The sensors have alerted JV and varsity coaches of eight notable impacts since the team began using Riddell this season, Kolosso said, but no concussions have been diagnosed off the hits.
Kolosso said the investment in Riddell InSite was directly influenced by former Hortonville middle linebacker Bryce Monti choosing to quit football last spring after a head injury. A Riddell representative saw a news report about Monti and approached the team. Kolosso said he didn’t know the technology existed but he was on board.
“We knew we wanted to do it right away because it really addressed the needs we had,” Kolosso said.
With publicity surrounding lawsuits against the NFL over players’ head injuries, plus the film “Concussion” starring Will Smith coming out this Christmas, Kolosso is concerned about the public’s perception of football.
Numbers are waning in the Pop Warner youth football league and large high schools around the state have cut freshman or JV teams due to declining participation.
Hortonville’s numbers have remained steady, Kolosso noted, and Riddell InSite aims to comfort fans and keep the school’s numbers up.
The $20,000 price tag for Riddell InSite is steep, Kolosso said. The booster club and the school went in on the cost together and will pay it off by the end of the technology’s lifespan, which is in four to five years.
“For what it does, I feel like it was worth it,” Kolosso said. “We were definitely willing to spend the money.”
Erica Stoeger, mother of senior quarterback Braden Stoeger, said player safety is top priority for coaches Tom and Andy Kolosso, and Riddell InSite puts the boys’ well-being at the forefront of every practice and game.
“Does it put me at ease? When I see boys that are upwards of 200 pounds coming at my son, there is really nothing that will put me completely at ease,” Erica Stoeger said. “However, I feel the investment in this system as a whole is fantastic and I would not be surprised to see it become required by all teams in the near future.”
Senior linebacker Blake Kalwitz said he rarely worries about concussions because he believes his coaches teach him safe technique. But he likes the way Riddell InSite reassures Polar Bears fans while truly working well.
“It’s good that we have it just because it shows the community that we’re a program that’s proactive about player safety,” Blake Kalwitz said.
Arrowhead High School in Hartland is the one other school in Wisconsin using Riddell InSite.