WALDORF, Md. (CBS) - Flag football is becoming one of the fastest growing youth sports in the country.
A report from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association shows more than 6.5 million people play. Many consider it to be a safer alternative to tackle, but some leagues are now requiring kids to use helmets
Eight-year-old Gabriel Crout doesn't remember much about the day when he collided head on with a teammate during a flag football game.
“He had a pretty deep gash,” recalls Gabriel’s mom, Somer. “I grabbed him by the face and held him close and said ‘can you hear me’ and his eyes rolled back and he started to seize and pass out.”
Gabriel was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a concussion. The incident was one of several that prompted Southern Maryland Youth Flag Football League Commissioner Reggie Barksdale to make a change. For the first time this season, he is requiring that all players wear helmets.
“The first couple of weeks were rough, but now everybody knows that they need their helmet,” said Barksdale.
Two-hundred-fifty players are on the league’s roster this fall, ranging in age from 4-14.
The soft-shell helmets the players are using are among several that were tested by Virginia Tech's Helmet Lab. Earlier this year, it released its first-ever safety ratings for flag football headgear by ranking which consumer models reduce concussion risk. A five-star rating is the best.
“Concussions, when that head to head impact happens, you know, head accelerations are going to occur,” explained Dr. Barry Miller. “If we can reduce those by 70% or more, then that’s kind of elicits the five-star rating.”
Barksdale has noticed the impact on the field.
“We’ve had a few collisions but each kid bounces back up, so after I see that, I feel good about my decision,” he said.
Gabriel and his mom are glad his former team has helmets and believe it could have made a difference in his injury last year.
“It would have probably just been a little cut and I could have just put a bandaid on it and kept playing," Gabriel said.