The Bethel School District is putting student-athletes' safety where the mouth is.
Clear Risk Solutions, which is the district's insurance carrier, and the Schools Insurance Association of Washington are working together to fund technologically advanced mouthguards that monitor the severity of collisions between athletes in competition. The goal, district officials say, is to help keep competitors upright and healthy.
To that end, the Spanaway Lake High School football team was given 95 brand new Vector mouthguards last September for the 2017 season. The district's insurance paid for them, which at $200 apiece aren't cheap.
Unlike the $5 plastic mouthguards that can be bought off the shelf at retail stores, the Vector devices are equipped with tiny computers that track every hit a player takes and then funnel that information to coaches on the sideline.
The "smart" mouthguards were created by Athlete Intelligence, a Kirkland-based company that specializes in developing technology to measure collisions on the playing field.
“We basically track every head impact that the athletes experience,” said Matt Ruddock, who is with Athlete Intelligence.
Football hits are measured by G-force, and the Vector mouthguards measure and record the G-force of every hit a player takes. If a mouthguard measures a big hit, someone on the coaching staff receives a real-time alert, which will allow them to immediately pull the player from the game and begin testing them for a potential concussion, Ruddock explained.
Vector mouthguards not only record the size of an impact, but also where on the head it occurs. Coaches can then study that data to determine if a player is using improper tackling and blocking techniques that could lead to danger.
District officials say success on the football field is measured not by wins and losses, but by player safety.
Bryan Streleski, the Bethel district’s director of athletics, learned about the Vector mouthguards several years ago and began discussing ways to get them into the district.
“Our goal is to gather data to make sure kids are safe,” he said.
Streleski is hopeful that more Bethel schools and different sports will soon be able to use the same technology.
According to Athlete Intelligence, high schools and colleges in other parts of the U.S. also are using Vector.
Jesse Harper, Atlhlete Intelligence's chief executive officer, is a former football player and coach. He also is a trainer for Olympic athletes.