Would a helmet hurt the way women play lacrosse?

SIDELINES

April 04, 1993|By PAT O'MALLEY

*TC Just the thought of helmets flames the sensitivity of those involved in women's lacrosse.

"This is a women's game, and we resent men coming in and giving opinions on our game. It's not the same game," said Cathy Samaras of Annapolis, who is president of the Chesapeake Women's Lacrosse Association.

"Ours is a non-contact sport."

The crux of the matter is that the women are adamantly opposed to helmets because they feel it would increase aggression and turn it into a contact sport like the boys.

They say their game is the original game, a continuous running and passing game free of contact believed to have been created in 1844 in Montreal among Indian tribes.

It's the belief of those in the United States Women's Lacrosse Association that men created a whole new game when they went to helmets and rough-housing.

Samaras, who has three daughters playing lacrosse, and those in the USWLA are furious over an article written by Paul Vinger in the March issue of Lacrosse Magazine published by the Lacrosse Foundation, Inc.

Vinger is an assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology at Harvard University and an assistant clinical professor of community health at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

After 20 years as an ophthalmologist dealing in sports vision performance and safety, it's Vinger's opinion that girls and women who play lacrosse should wear helmets.

"I believe they should be worn for the good of the players and the sport," Vinger wrote. "Officials must realize that a head, face, tooth and eye injury problem exists in women's lacrosse."

Vinger said the USWLA collected data from 1980 through 1983 and disclosed that there were between 6.2 and 9.9 percent annual injuries to the face, eye and teeth of players. The USWLA ceased collecting such data after 1983.

It's interesting to note that two years after the USWLA ceased its survey, Julette Valette of Chesapeake broke her jaw when she was hit by a lacrosse ball in practice. Valette, who had a broken nose the year before, had her jaw wired.

"The potential always exists for significant injury," Vinger wrote.

Samaras disagrees and said that "the dangers decrease at the higher skill levels and if the game is taught the right way, there is no need for helmets."

U.S. Naval Academy women's lacrosse coach Ann Wallace, who has coached at all levels, agrees with Samaras and said, "Women's lacrosse is not an aftereffect of men's lacrosse, it is the original game."

In her book "Women's Lacrosse," written in 1977, Agnes Bixler Kurtz wrote: "The men who wish to introduce helmets may not understand that women are allowed no body contact with stick or body and are not allowed to make rough or dangerous checks near the head.

"If helmets are required, rough checks near the head will certainly be allowed and the game will become much rougher."

Mistakes and overzealous plays occur in sports and that's why baseball players, for instance, wear helmets. Serious beanings are rare in high school and youth baseball, yet helmets with ear flaps are mandatory.

Vinger wrote: "Athletes do not complain about protectors when coaches and officials show a positive attitude toward them."

Baseball helmets with ear flaps are a good example of that. Kids hated them at first, but not anymore because the potential of being seriously injured has been reduced.

The USWLA has not made helmets optionable and will not sanction or referee any game in which a girl insists on wearing one.

But the fact that the USWLA has adopted safety measures, such as a yellow softer ball and mandatory colored mouth guards, is an admission of concern.

"STX developed the soft ball and when we first used it inside, everybody hated it, and we got 250 opinions," Samaras said. "After using it for awhile, the girls like the way it doesn't hurt as much."

Samaras also said that six different pieces of eye protection are being tested and that the USWLA might not be opposed to some sort of headgear similar to that worn by amateur boxers.

Certainly those are some positive steps by purists who love to dwell on how their game is the true Native American sport, the original game with no boundaries and no equipment.

But couldn't all those measures be alleviated by simply wearing a helmet and strictly enforcing the current rules?

Motorcyclists and women's lacrosse officials have a lot in common. They are tough to reason with when it comes to safety.

"You say girls should wear helmets, and we'll run you out of town," Samaras said.

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