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NEW HEADGEAR MAKING WAVES IN SOCCER
PROTECTIVE ITEM TESTING PURISTS' VIEW OF THE SPORT

Matt Paryz can't tell you much about the concussion he suffered two years ago as a sophomore on the Lancaster High School junior varsity soccer team.

"I went up for a head ball, and I don't remember anything after that," he said.

The concussion knocked him out and put him out for the rest of the season. He eventually returned to the soccer field -- with his travel team, the Lancaster-Depew Wizards, and with the Lancaster varsity last season. But he suffered two or three minor recurrences, and he had started playing less aggressively.

Then last spring, at a tournament in Pennsylvania, he spotted a player who had donned a piece of soccer headgear -- sort of a padded headband that covers the forehead and temples and helps cushion the blow from a head ball.

Matt and his parents decided it was worth a try, to help prevent or reduce the severity of any further head injuries.

The reaction was predictable. Opponents poked fun at the new piece of equipment. Even his teammates, whenever he headed the ball, started yelling in unison, "Headgear."

But Matt, 17, one of the Lancaster captains, quickly became a big fan of the soft head guard, made of a high-density polyethylene foam and weighing only 1 1/2 ounces.

"I really couldn't tell it was there until I headed the ball," Matt said recently, just moments before Lancaster's victory over Niagara Falls in a sectional playoff game. "It took a little bit to get used to it. But it gave me more confidence, because there's more protection."

His father, who coaches Matt's Wizards team, provided a more technical explanation.

"It cushions the initial impact and distributes the load over a wider area," Roman Paryz said.

Last month, according to the Associated Press, the New York State West Youth Soccer Association became the first in the nation to require the use of protective headguards, following a vote of its board. The requirement, starting in March, would affect nearly 35,000 players age 14 and under from Buffalo to Binghamton.

However, the issue has been sent to the association's lawyers, and it's not clear whether the requirement will go into effect in March.

The soccer world remains divided on the issue.

The manufacturer, Full90 Sports of San Diego, doesn't claim its product will prevent concussions. But it argues that it will reduce the impact of headed balls and perhaps lessen the severity of concussions.

Some safety experts question whether there's enough research to back up the manufacturer's claims. And some youth soccer leaders across the nation wonder whether the headgear could cause some players to be more aggressive or create a false sense of security for players with previous concussions.

Players like Matt.

Some soccer purists also question why the headgear should be mandatory for younger kids, when high school and college soccer feature more heading and more violent collisions.

"There's no reason older kids can't wear it," Roman Paryz said. "Until your son or daughter has a concussion, you won't realize the need for it. It's $25 or $35 for something that can prevent a hospital stay. It's well worth the price."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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