SNOHOMISH — So, what exactly are those turtle-shell-like padded coverings that Glacier Peak High School football players wear over their helmets during practice?
Grizzlies players call them “helmet helmets,” a nickname that stuck ever since they began wearing the helmet covers midway through last season. As two-way senior standout Evan Mannes put it, they are kind of like a “helmet for our helmet.”
The official name of the helmet cover, however, is a Guardian Cap. The lightweight, soft-shell coverings were developed by Georgia-based Guardian Innovations in an effort to reduce the impact of head collisions among football and lacrosse players.
Through the football program’s booster club and the generosity of a benefactor, Glacier Peak midway through last season received Guardian Caps for every player on its high-school team. Following suit, the Glacier Peak Youth Football Association provided Guardian Caps for their teams this year.
“At the auction last year, they asked me what kind of safety device I would see (as) most beneficial for the team,” said Grizzlies coach Nick Bender, whose squad faces Eastlake in a Week 10 playoff game Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Snohomish.
“(We’re) blessed with having great equipment, great support. And I thought, ‘You know, if we’re going to do this, let’s take one step further to try to protect the kids in the day-to-day practice.’ And so I asked for Guardian Caps.”
Made of a soft urethane material, Guardian Caps fit over any sized helmet and attach to the facemask with elastic straps.
The product was first introduced in 2011, the same year Guardian Innovations was founded by Erin and Lee Hanson. Guardian Innovations focuses on developing innovative athletic equipment and was born out of a material sciences company called The Hanson Group, which Lee Hanson started in 1995.
According to the company’s website, Guardian Caps are worn by more than 80,000 football and lacrosse players nationwide. News outlets have reported college football programs such as Clemson, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Rutgers wearing Guardian Caps in recent years.
Glacier Peak’s players don Guardian Caps for every practice and scrimmage, but that appears to be a rarity among high-school teams in this area. When the Grizzlies went to Central Washington University team camp this past summer, they were the only ones wearing the helmet coverings.
“When we went to Central camp, at first, people made fun of us,” Bender said. “But by the end of the camp, the college coaches, the other high-school coaches (and) the other high-school players wanted to know how they can get them for their program.”
Guardian Caps are designed to serve as an extra layer of protection for when helmets inevitably collide during practice. Guardian Innovations claims the soft-shell helmet covers reduce head impact by up to 33 percent.
However, the American Academy of Neurology released a study in 2015 concluding that football helmet add-ons such as Guardian Caps “may not significantly help lower the risk of concussions.” Yet, some reportedly have called into question the study’s methodology, which involved dropping helmets from various heights.
A warning on Guardian Innoviations’ website states: “No helmet, practice apparatus, or helmet pad can prevent or eliminate the risk of concussions or other serious head injuries while playing sports. Researchers have not reached an agreement on how the results of impact absorption tests relate to concussions. No conclusions about a reduction of risk or severity of concussive injury should be drawn from impact absorption tests.”
Bender said that while current data regarding the degree of effectiveness for helmet add-ons isn’t clear, he thinks Guardian Caps are definitely a worthwhile investment in light of football’s growing safety concerns.
“If you look at the game of football — whether it be rightful or wrongful — it’s kind of under attack right now,” Bender said. “So anything that you can do to increase the probability of safety, you take that extra step. … We’re all taking the safety issue very seriously.”
Mannes, who plays on both sides of the ball at linebacker and wide receiver, said he’s definitely noticed a difference in head-to-head collisions since wearing a Guardian Cap.
“It helps a lot, because that crack of two helmets hitting each other really hard is kind of gone,” he said. “It’s soft now. When you hit someone else, it feels like a soft hit, like a shoulder-to-shoulder hit — not really like you’re slamming into someone.”
When the Grizzlies first received Guardian Caps last season, Mannes said he and his teammates weren’t all that eager to wear them.
“(It was) kind of just another thing that we had to keep track of — something that we had to wear every day,” he said. “And (they) kind of looked funny.”
But Mannes said his opinion changed after becoming acclimated to wearing a Guardian Cap and noticing a difference in collisions.
“They move around a little bit,” he said. “But while you’re wearing them, they’re not heavy or anything, so you don’t really feel them around your head.
“As soon as (other players and teams) hear that they’re actually a thing,” he added, “I think that there’s no reason not to have them. It’s just an extra safety precaution, and I think that’s important for football.”
Bender said he’s very grateful to have Guardian Caps throughout the high-school and youth programs.
“We’re beyond blessed,” he said. “We have an amazing support system — the parents, our district, all (the) people rallying behind us. … It’s amazing to see the community support and everybody get involved for what they now identify as their team.”