Soft-helmet mandate upsets girls lacrosse players, coaches

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  • | 11:53 a.m. October 9, 2014
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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The Florida High School Athletic Association made a pair of decisions regarding the sport of girls lacrosse at its board of directors meeting on Sept. 29 — but not the one girls lacrosse players, coaches and aficionados around the state wanted.

The FHSAA Board of Directors expanded upon its mandate from June of this year that all players must wear protective headgear by specifying the use of soft headgear already allowed as an option by US Lacrosse, the sport’s national governing body. 

The board also mandated that all girls lacrosse officials will have to be US Lacrosse certified beginning with the 2015 season next spring to develop a safer competition environment.

The decision that hundred of players across the state had wanted, though, was one that likely was never on the table — overturning the protective headgear mandate altogether. The unpopular mandate is almost universally panned by people familiar with the game. Florida is the only state in the country that has implemented such a rule.

When nothing was done to that end following the Sept. 29 meeting, many players across the state expressed their displeasure on social media forums such as Twitter.

“Everyone’s angry — very angry,” said Leah Hughes, the captain for the West Orange girls lacrosse team. “I think it’s going to cause a lot of girls to not play (high school lacrosse) this year. … There’s definitely talk about girls not playing."

Hughes’ coach at West Orange, Mary Hopkins, attended a FHSAA Coaches’ Advisory meeting in Gainesville on Monday and said coaches around the state are upset about the ruling — and concerned about the state of the game in Florida.

“Everybody still was completely opposed to the helmets, (but) it was explained to us that is no longer an issue at this point, anymore, because (the FHSAA) isn’t going back on this decision,” Hopkins said.

The two overriding concerns with the mandate center around how adding the helmets would change the way the game is played here in Florida. There is worry that by adding helmets, competitors would become more aggressive because of the added protection. Also, there is no concrete link between the soft helmets and reducing concussions, something that was acknowledged during the meeting. 

Also at stake is recruiting. 

College coaches from programs, including Jacksonville University, have expressed their disapproval of the mandate, worrying that the players from Florida will essentially be playing a different game, and that worry could affect Floridians looking to play in college.

With each passing day, the reality of a spring 2015 season with soft helmets becomes a more likely reality, and programs are exploring options that include playing games as club teams, apart from the FHSAA.

“There are schools that are actually talking about playing only their district games with FHSAA and then running a parallel program not in the school, but as a club team outside of the school with the same girls,” Hopkins said. “That probably will start taking place. I’ve heard from 16, 17 schools that are talking that way, and they’re more of the upper-level teams.”
Hopkins was non-committal on whether that was something that her program would consider.

“It’s something that I have to look into; I’ve got players (who) are being recruited,” Hopkins said. “If we end up with no games to play, I still have to allow these kids to play somehow, somewhere. It’s along the lines of, as things start to progress, you’re going to have to readjust all the way up to the start of the season.”

Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].


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