The community rallies to outfit the Lyman High football team with special concussion-reducing helmets
When the Friday-night lights illuminate the gridiron for the start of another year of varsity football at Lyman High School, one major change will be in place on the field, something oblivious to the naked eye. And it’s all in the name of safety.
It has to do with the bright blue helmets Lyman players will wear. They are specially made headgear designed to reduce the risk of concussions. The helmets are part of the SpeedFlex line by equipment manufacturer Riddell. About a dozen players were fortunate enough to don the special helmets last year with great success, but that left most of the team’s 40-man roster in more traditional gear. The SpeedFlex helmets cost $350 apiece, so outfitting the entire team was not in the cards... that is, until the community stepped in.
Enter Mayor Matt Morgan of Longwood, a former World Wrestling Entertainment and Total Nonstop Action professional wrestler, who is no stranger to concussions. Matt got wind of a fundraising campaign by Dennis Thomas, Lyman High’s head football coach, who was trying to buy more SpeedFlex helmets but was running into dead-ends.
“When I found out, I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I suffered 21 registered concussions from wrestling,” says Mayor Morgan. “That’s what makes this super, super important to me.”
Mayor Morgan had previously hosted a successful wrestling event to raise $11,000 for a softball batting cage at Longwood’s Candyland Park. To help the Lyman players, he laced up his wrestling boots once again to stage the Reiter Park Rumble. The wrestler-turned-mayor came out of retirement for one last match and was joined by other pro wrestlers who offered their services at no charge.
“So many people came, not just from Longwood or Seminole County, but from all over,” Mayor Morgan says. “We raised about $16,000, and people continue to keep giving. I just received a check for $350 to fully pay for another helmet.”
Coach Thomas says the impact of the new helmets was immediate.
“The kids feel the difference,” he says. “There is more cushion to the helmet, which gives them more confidence.”
“Since Matt has taken on his new role as a leader in Longwood, he wants to be involved and help the kids,” says Mike. “It was no surprise to me that he wanted to get the community involved with the school. We are both interested in the partnership between the City of Longwood and Lyman High School flourishing in the coming years.”
“The city loves these kids,” adds Mayor Morgan. “When they grow up, we want them to stay in Longwood or come back to Longwood to pay it forward. I am concerned with our kids’ safety because I don’t want to see a concussion ruining a good life. Their brains are still developing.”
“I am so glad we have helmets for all of our boys now,” says Carly Burns, a UCF and Trinity Prep graduate who serves as head athletic trainer for Lyman High.
She says the number of overall concussions for the football team were down last year with the introduction of the new helmets, and she expects to see a greater drop off this year, although it’s not a miracle cure.
“These helmets help reduce the number of concussions,” says Carly, “but they can’t totally prevent concussions.”
Indeed, while SpeedFlex helmets are engineered with flexibility to help reduce the impact on the player, the manufacturer is adamant that no helmet can completely prevent serious head or neck injuries.
Lyman’s teams, like all high-school football programs, have concussion protocols in place adopted by the state, mandating immediate removal of a player “who exhibits signs, symptoms, or behaviors consistent with a concussion.” No player can return to the field until cleared by a doctor.
As part of the protocol, Carly adds that an impact test is given every year to each player. The test forms a baseline for trainers and coaches to watch.
“We know if they have been injured,” she says. “That’s important because most kids come off the sidelines saying they are okay.”
Mayor Morgan is more than serious about his commitment. He is involved with the Sports Legacy Institute founded by Christopher Nowinski, a Harvard graduate and former WWE wrestler. The institute studies the brains of former athletes during retirement and after they pass away to better understand concussions and give younger players the tools to prevent them.
“I donated my brain to science,” says Mayor Morgan, a 42-year-old father of a five-year-old son. “This is ultra-important to me.”
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