As they root for the home team from the bleachers this fall, high school gridiron fans in the small Illinois town of Tolono dont necessarily see anything out of the ordinary down on the field.
But just out of sight, tucked inside many of the maroon helmets worn by the Unity High School Rockets, a revolution of sorts is taking place. This season, 32 varsity team members are sporting helmets outfitted with the same electronic encoder modules now used by a handful of college teams.
The purpose of the high-tech headgear, which uses six strategically placed, spring-loaded accelerometers to wirelessly beam information to a Web-based system on a laptop computer on the sidelines, is to more effectively and more immediately detect when blows to players heads may result in concussions or more severe brain injuries.
In addition, impact data including location of hits, magnitude of force and length of hits is recorded for analysis by a University of Illinois research team led by kinesiology and community health professor Steven Broglio.
Unity is the only high school in the country using the Head Impact Telemetry System, or HITS, Broglio said. There are 12 million high school football players across the nation, he said. This is a huge population we dont know much about.
The system being used in the research partnership between the U. of I. and Unity was developed by Simbex, a research and product-development company based in New Hampshire. It works in tandem with helmets made by Riddell, the nations largest helmet manufacturer, and was first tested on the Virginia Tech football team in 2002.
Broglio said a number of other researchers at universities across the nation, including Virginia Tech, the University of North Carolina and Dartmouth, also are using the system as the basis for studies of biomechanical processes caused by concussions and traumatic brain injuries.
At Unity, each varsity player was given
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign