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A Heads-Up Game for Big Green Senior

  • Dartmouth College women's lacrosse defender Kristen Hinckley is the only player on the team to wear a helmet. She does so because of concussions suffered in the past and said the helmet and goggles cost about $130. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Dartmouth College women's lacrosse player Kristen Hinckley is the only player on her team to wear a helmet. She does so after suffering prior concussions and said she's yet to encounter an opponent this spring who wears one. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/25/2017 11:31:46 PM
Modified: 3/25/2017 11:31:47 PM

Hanover — Kristen Hinckley possesses an unfortunate knowledge of concussions. A defender on the Dartmouth College women’s lacrosse team, the senior has suffered three of them, one of which caused her to miss her freshman season. Hoping not to endure a fourth, the suburban Philadelphia product has donned a helmet this season, becoming one of the first college players to take that step.

“I haven’t seen anyone else with one and the referees are always saying I’m the first person they’ve seen with it,” said Hinckley, whose team is 4-4 overall and 0-2 in Ivy League play heading into this week’s action. “I was expecting to see more people with it.”

Hinckley doesn’t care for the way the helmet looks or feels, but she’s getting used to it. Women’s lacrosse fans may also become accustomed to the sight of them, because there are rumblings they will be required for all players down the road. In a 2015 New York Times story, Dawn Comstock, a Colorado college professor of epidemiology, said most women’s lacrosse concussions occur when players are hit with a stick or ball, exactly the type of forceful injuries against which helmets protect.

Many of those opposed to helmets worry the sport will become more violent if all its competitors wear them. Women will feel safer and therefore become more aggressive and less careful of their opponents, goes the theory. Women’s lacrosse goaltenders have worn helmets for decades in a sport that, unlike the men’s version, prohibits body checking. There are more than 300,000 girls high school players, and the number grows steadily by the year.

“The girls lacrosse players are at risk,” Comstock said in the Times article. “They say protection will create a gladiator effect. If the officials enforce the rules and the coaches teach by the rules, then the game cannot change. Athletes cannot play more aggressively unless you allow them to do so.”

Sara Ecker, Lebanon High’s longtime coach and a former player at Lehigh University, coaches her defenders to use footwork and body position and to avoid dangerous stick checks. Player safety is foremost on her mind, but she’s against requiring helmet use.

“It will change the game too much and likely put us in full pads five years from now,” Ecker wrote in an email. “I am also convinced that all injuries will increase with helmet use.”

Hinckley said she hasn’t absorbed what feel like harder-than-normal stick checks so far this spring. However, she said her teammates have warned her to be careful.

“Since I’ve been wearing it, they’ve told me that people have been swinging at me more, which was one of my fears,” said Hinckley, adding that she bought her helmet online for about $130.

Hinckley’s problems began when she took a charge during a high school basketball game and fell backward, her head striking the floor and causing a concussion. Her first season at Dartmouth, a teammate accidentally whacked her on the head with a stick, the impact not seeming severe, but eventually causing Hinckley to feel “out of it” and become more emotional than usual. She didn’t play that spring, but became a starter as a sophomore and junior. Last summer, however, she was in a car accident and suffered her third concussion.

“I definitely thought a lot about my health at that point, but playing for Dartmouth is so important,” Hinckley said. “And the helmet made me feel a lot safer out there. I’m not as cautious or timid about getting hit in the head.”

Hinckley said her eye goggles, which are required for all field players, are integrated into the helmet, making it a one-piece device that settles around her temple and above her ears. The helmet comes with a chin strap, but she said it still tends to shift and bob when she sprints, which is annoying. Still, she believes they will be required gear in the coming years.

“I would like to say that it won’t happen, but I think it will,” she said.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.


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