FHSAA ruling puts girls lacrosse in limbo
Published: Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 21, 2014 at 6:18 p.m.
In its final meeting of the 2013-2014 school year, the board of directors of the Florida High School Athletic Association created quite a firestorm.
Among its final decisions, the board favored mandating helmets for girls lacrosse beginning in 2015 as a precautionary move against head injuries.
In making this decision, the FHSAA ignored its own lacrosse advisory board and US Lacrosse, the governing body of the sport, which both voiced opposition to making helmets mandatory. The move has attracted national attention in lacrosse, from coaches, officials, parents and players.
The change came after a presentation by Orange County board member Russell Wambles, athletic director at Dr. Phillips. He reported seven concussions at one school and six at another in his county this past season. For some reason, his words meant more to the board than US Lacrosse.
“The number of head injuries in girls lacrosse exceeds that in football and boys lacrosse in some schools,” Wambles wrote in his presentation to executive director Roger Dearing and the rest of the FHSAA board. “Data from Orange Co. schools shows that one school had twice as many concussions in girls lacrosse than football and boys lacrosse combined. It is imperative that our membership act quickly.”
The biggest concern regarding helmets is that US Lacrosse doesn't endorse the ones currently on the market. The organization has been working with respected physicians and researchers to develop a consensus headgear standard for women's lacrosse based on results. Until those results are acceptable to US Lacrosse, it believes any mandate for headgear is premature.
“It is simply irresponsible to enact rule mandates requiring head protection in women's lacrosse without a clear understanding of the mechanism of head injury in a version of the sport that is entirely different from its male counterpart, and without head protection designed and manufactured specifically to mitigate that injury mechanism,” said Ann Kitt Carpenetti, US Lacrosse vice president of games operations, in a statement following the June 10 decision. “In both cases, US Lacrosse is providing prudent, focused leadership based on well-founded medical and research protocols.”
Players and coaches from around the state, including UF's Amanda O'Leary, are joining forces to petition the ruling. The online petition, started by incoming senior player Mariana Hernandez of Orlando Timber Creek, has more than 3,200 signatures.
Florida is the only state mandating helmets in girls lacrosse. What kind of helmet? Well, that hasn't been decided yet, a soft helmet brand was referred to in the presentation. If anything, the ruling has created a summer of discontent among coaches, parents and players.
“It normally takes a two-year process for any sort of FHSAA rule change,” said Buchholz coach Lynn Millinoff. “Because this is a safety issue, they sort of railroad it through. They did a quick vote, they didn't listen to the people who have spent years researching this very issue or even their own advisory board.
“To mandate a helmet is not the answer. I have no problem with helmets being voluntary, but (I) do with them being mandatory. US Lacrosse's article was spot on. If you have two experienced refs, they will control the game. If you have refs that are not skilled, not vocal — we have had games with one ref — the games can easily run away from you. The game will get rougher and more aggressive. Girls are willing to risk more to get the save, make the pass, to go after that ball.”
Rules are much different between boys and girls lacrosse, with the boys required to wear helmets and even shoulder pads because it is a more physical game. Girls lacrosse doesn't allow body checks and collisions, and unlike the boys version, physical contact is very minimal. That is likely to change, as will the game, with helmets in 2015.
Millinoff said the Bobcats had two concussions this past season and two in 2013. Oak Hall coach Gigi Roark said the Eagles had three concussions this season, but none that a helmet would have prevented.
“Most people are afraid that it will give folks an artificial sense of safety,” Roark said. “If coaches are more knowledgeable, players become more skilled, officials more experienced ... nobody wants players to get hurt.”
Ironically, FHSAA's move puts the sport in jeopardy. Because the FHSAA follows the US Lacrosse's rules and standards, coaches are asked by officials before each match if their equipment is approved by US Lacrosse. As of now, the FHSAA's decision would force coaches to say no and consequently stop the match before it starts.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the national organization for high school sports which has a link on the FHSAA website, works directly with US Lacrosse.
This decision will not only impact how the game is played, it will impact the cost for schools to have a girls lacrosse team. Parents will be asked to pay more. Plus, it will severely hamper girls' chances for a college scholarship since schools, such as Florida and others, don't mandate play with helmets.
Millinoff, who with husband Ian oversees the Gainesville Lacrosse Association, also wonders how it will affect youth lacrosse and summer club lacrosse, neither of which are under FHSAA guidelines.
The same day FHSAA went against US Lacrosse as to mandating helmets, it supported US Lacrosse's stance that four yellow cards in one match results in a team playing with a player down for the remainder of the game.
“FHSAA is finally getting in line with US Lacrosse by adopting that,” Millinoff said. “They are already tightening up, they don't need the helmet rule. It is crazy to have FHSAA vote that way, it's mind-boggling to all of us in the field.”
FHSAA's next board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13-14.
In 2013, the Maryland Legislature introduced a bill that would have required girls under 19 to wear protective headgear. After heavy criticism from the lacrosse community, including US Lacrosse, the bill was dropped.
BOYS LACROSSE: Chandler Coons, Kyle Hunziker and Finn Swanson of Buchholz have been chosen to play for the 2014 Florida National Lacrosse Team. The team consists of players graduating in 2015-16 and has been selected to represent Florida at the 2014 UP Lax Lacrosse Tournament in Annapolis, Md., and the Crab City Challenge in Baltimore, Md., next week. Hunziker and Swanson, incoming seniors, were both named first team all-area in 2014.
COACHING NEWS: Rick Swain, who led both Buchholz (1989) and Santa Fe (1999) to final fours in boys basketball and had coaching stops at Hawthorne and Gainesville, will retire from coaching after the 2014 football season at Boynton Beach. Swain, who grew up in Ocala, will be completing his seventh season as football coach at Boynton Beach and 41st as a high school coach.
*Former Gainesville High coach Ryan Smith, who led the Hurricanes to back-to-back playoff berths in football including the 2010 state semifinals, resigned as head coach at Taylor County earlier this month after two seasons. He left Gainesville to coach at DeLand, which lasted two seasons before returning home to Perry. Smith will be a defensive coordinator at a small school in Alabama.
NEWEST BOBCAT: On Thursday, Fletcher Simmons, an incoming senior and two-time first-team all-area baseball player at P.K. Yonge, officially transferred to Buchholz. Brian Simmons, his father and coach of the Blue Wave, resigned after the 2014 season.
Larry Savage is the high school sports editor of The Gainesville Sun. He welcomes news regarding high school athletics. Email him at email@example.com or call at (352) 374-5050.