When Willy Dodd was playing for the Juneau-Douglas High School football team, concussion protocols were much less developed than they are today. Reflecting back on his three-year career in the early 2000s, Dodd said it’s likely he played through concussions when he shouldn’t.
The widespread safety risks of the sport weren’t as well known as they are today.
“There was severe concussions when I was playing,” Dodd said. “I was fortunate enough not to have anything severe like that but I think if the protocols that are in place now were in place when I played, I probably would have missed some time.”
Thanks to the efforts of Dodd several other alumni, Juneau high school football players will now for certainty when they’re fit to step on the football field. The alumni group helped raise just over $20,000 for brand new helmets for the high school team. The “Riddell Speedflex” helmets purchased are equipped with head impact sensors, technology that tracks on-field impacts.
“The awareness of it has really come to the forefront and also I think the technology is really being focused on,” Dodd said. “The helmet technology is night and day from what we were wearing 20 years ago.”
Juneau Huskies coach Rich Sjoroos was grateful for gift, and is excited to put the new products to work.
“To go out and source the funds like they did as quickly as they did was just incredible,” Sjoroos said. “And then they went out and got the state of the art helmets. These helmets have a receiver inside to where you can hook it up to a computer or some sort of device that measure impact levels. I got a little manual that I’ve been reading through just to learn more about it. It’s going to be really useful technology to help keep these kids safe for the next decade.”
It wasn’t the first time the JDHS football alumni teamed up this spring. The Huskies (the combined JDHS-TMHS squad) hosted an alumni game last month, and 70 former JDHS and Thunder Mountain players signed up, including Dodd and former teammate Chad DuBois.
There was only one problem.
Neither Dodd, 35, nor DuBois, 34, had gear, and the high school’s equipment stores weren’t in the best shape. The former players and several others decided to buy helmets just for the game, which they would then donate to the program. Then Dodd had another thought: Why don’t we raise money for the helmets?
“We started putting the feelers out and working together and talking to our employers,” Dodd said. “I work at Bartlett Hospital and then we have several miners within my small group.”
In a matter of about two weeks, almost two dozen local business and individuals committed roughly $20,000. The Hecla and Coeur mining companies were especially generous, donating several thousands of dollars.
“Some of them were donations of $250 all the way up to $5,000,” Dodd said. “So it was a big effort and a lot of help from the community. Player safety was kind of our main concern and what we really stressed to these people. This is helping the football team, but at the same time, this is helping to ensure kids are going to be safe and be able to keep going to school and 10 years from now, not start developing issues related to concussions.”
According to one study, high school football players suffered 11.2 concussions for every 10,000 games and practices, the highest rate of the eight sports looked at in the research.
“Head safety is huge in terms of what we thought was important to get these guys back on track,” DuBois said.
The helmets arrived in time for game day. Unfortunately, DuBois only wore his for a short amount of time. The quarterback pulled his calf muscle after only a few throws, sidelining him for most of the game.
“They’re great, they seem lighter on your head,” DuBois said. “It was just really comfortable, I don’t know how else to describe it. It just felt slick.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.