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No protective headgear required -- unless you want it, a youth soccer association has decreed.

The New York State West Youth Soccer Association, whose jurisdiction covers hundreds of outdoor leagues west of Interstate 81, approved a position statement during its annual meeting in mid-November to calm the furor created when its board approved a mandate for protective headgear for players younger than 14.

Posted on the association's Web site, it states, in part: "The NYSWYSA is concerned about the safety of its players and strongly recommends that all of its member parents examine the protection that headgear . . . can offer against potential head injuries."

"However, the NYSWYSA will NOT mandate the wearing of protective headgear, unless it is first approved by its member clubs and leagues, and is permitted to do so by its National or Regional bodies."

So how did this all get started?

During an interview between the president of a California company that manufactures protective headguards and a wire service reporter, there was talk about such headgear becoming mandatory, according to Roger Jank, Buffalo commissioner for the soccer association.

On Sept. 18, the soccer association's board approved a motion to mandate the headgear, but board members quickly realized that it should have been up to the membership to decide.

"The mandate should never have come out," Jank said Tuesday night. "That's what caused the whole problem."

Jank said he and other association officials got an earful from coaches and clubs, to the effect of "Who are we to tell them what to do?"

"We took so much heat," Jank said.

The outcry from coaches and clubs was largely about economics; the units sell for $25 to $35, and some leagues run on shoestring budgets, Jank said. "They figured the added cost to the parent," he said.

The device, sort of a padded headband, covers the forehead and temples and helps cushion the blow from a head ball. Mandated or not, some local soccer officials agree that protective headgear should something for parents to consider.

"Personally, I think it should be an option that's available," said John White, chairman of Ken-Ton Soccer. "A little bit of safety is better than no safety."

Roman Paryz coaches the Lancaster-Depew Wizards, whose players are older and would not have been affected by the mandate. But his 17-year-old son, Matt, wears headgear by choice.

Having suffered concussions during collisions with other players, the teenager wears one without being told. It has made a difference in his play, his father said.

"He went from being apprehensive to playing like he used to play," Paryz said.

"Should it be mandated? I don't know," Paryz said.

Paryz said he suspects the international governing body eventually may require headgear, just as shinguards are required now.

"Am I recommending it to the parents? No, I'm not doing that," Paryz said.

When people ask his opinion about whether their child should wear one, Paryz says: "If you think its going to help your son, by all means."


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