A Dangerous Game

A piece of Crash Cloud technology, the foundation of Windpact’s helmet padding (picture: Max Wolpoff; product courtesy: Jeff Champagne)

BOSTON –  At around 10:30 p.m., while driving on Interstate 95 North with his two sons Skylar, 15, and Shawn, 6, Shawn Springs hit a parked car.

Everyone walked away without injuries. The safety of Shawn’s car seat, designed to absorb and dissipate energy simultaneously, prompted his father’s thinking.

“If it can protect that well with car seats, maybe, just maybe, it can protect that well with other products,” Springs said.

Springs, a Pro-Bowl cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, and New England Patriots, took the accident as the impetus to start Windpact, his corporation that makes force-reducing helmet padding for all sports and professions — including cycling, equestrian, and the military.

“Anybody who wears a helmet, we can sell to them,” Springs said.

After 13 years in the National Football League, Springs retired from football in 2009. The Seattle Seahawks drafted him third overall in 1997. He played there for seven years before joining the Washington Redskins for five, then the New England Patriots for his last year.

He ended his career with 33 interceptions, 6 forced fumbles, 8 1/2 sacks, and, by his estimate, 10 to 15 concussions.

Four were diagnosed.

“The longer you play, the technology became better, the game became faster,” Springs said in a phone interview. In 2005, he says the league started to address head injuries with more fervor.

This coincides with Dr. Bennet Omalu’s study on the brain of former NFL lineman Mike Webster, leading to a new diagnosis: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Dr. Robert Stern, director of clinical research for the Boston University CTE Center, saw CTE was a bigger problem than first imagined when the center diagnosed Tom McHale’s brain with the disease in 2008.

McHale, a nine-year pro, played defensive end and never had a reported concussion. His wife, Lisa McHale, contacted the center thinking McHale’s brain would be a control – a brain that went through football and did not develop CTE.

“As a lineman, every play of every game and every practice, you are hitting your head, and so there is this type of sub-concussive trauma,” Stern said. “We did not really think about that at that point.”

After McHale’s diagnosis, the center received brains from players of other sports, and those who never played professionally.

“What we are learning,” Stern said, “is the total exposure to these repetitive hits, and perhaps starting off early, when the brain is going through this vulnerable period of development, seems to be the greatest risks for later-life neurodegenerative disease.”

The BU Alzheimer’s Disease Center, site of Dr. Robert Stern’s office (photo: Max Wolpoff)

Head injuries are nothing new to sports. Both the NFL and the National Hockey League are in the middle of lawsuits with former players, who are seeking damages for negligence regarding the long-term issues of traumatic brain injuries. Both the NFL and NHL deny the claims made in the suits.

If concussions, Stern said, are the tip of the iceberg, “what about all of those other hits that don’t result in concussion, that happen much, much more frequently, and that seem to be the big underlying issue when it comes to CTE?”

A grant from the National Institutes of Health is funding the center’s new research, the Diagnose CTE Project. The CTE Center is working with the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center in Las Vegas, Nevada; the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona; and NYU Medical School to diagnose CTE while athletes are alive.

To get his technology ready for sale, Springs approached Jeff Champagne and his team at engineering company MPR — Mandil, Panoff, and Rockwell.

Champagne is the director of business development at MPR. Craig Mauch is the director of product design. Their jobs are to take products pitched to MPR – like Springs’s helmet padding – and get them ready for sale.

The padding uses Crash Cloud technology: Impact Vents to dissipate energy and Wind Springs to allow air an escape through 1/32-inch holes. The design and utility are patent protected.

“You would be shocked at how many engineers it takes to make a hole in a piece of plastic,” Champagne said in an interview at his Chelmsford office. “If it is done incorrectly, it breaks down completely.”

Right now, the technology is available in girls’ and women’s lacrosse helmets sold through Hummingbird Sports — a lacrosse gear site — for $139 at most retailers. According to Hummingbird’s site, the helmet works with existing lacrosse goggles, is up to headgear safety standards, and has a back opening for a pony tail.

The lacrosse helmet passed American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards before it went to market.

“Not many can pass that,” Springs said, “and we passed it.”

Cascade, a competitor, offers a similar energy dissipation technology in their Cascade R for $30 more at most retailers. The R is the official helmet of Major League Lacrosse and USA Lacrosse.

New helmet technology goes through a battery of tests to ensure its safety. While a football prototype went through testing at Virginia Tech, Windpact cannot publish the results until the helmet is ready for commercial sale.

Windpact collaborated with the same people who designed the helmets for the band Daft Punk, known for their high-tech set-up.

“This could be the best tech in the world, but if it does not look cool, nobody will buy it,” Champagne said.

The hope is to sell at prices similar to those currently on the market. Adult helmets range in price from $50 to $439 online.

While Springs and Champagne are confident Windpact technology is better than what is currently available, both understand some consumers will not be able to afford the first issue of the helmets.

“D.C. cannot afford the same things that Loudon, P.G [Prince George’s], and Montgomery County can,” Springs said.

There is still an urgency to get the helmets on the shelves soon.

“We do not know if [head injuries] are as bad, or worse than, smoking,” Mauch said.

“Our goal is to reduce force to the head,” Springs said. “I do not think anybody in our lifetime will prevent concussions.”

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JO 514: Sin Bin: Maddie Elia on her career

Boston University senior Maddie Elia (Max Wolpoff)

BOSTON – Out of the 39 penalties committed in the first five Hockey East games of the Boston University season, senior Maddie Elia served six of them. The conference was still adjusting to new rules about hooking and holding enforcement.

“We got an e-mail, and there was a video highlighting the new rules, and then a ref actually came and talked to us,” Elia said in an interview Tuesday. “But I don’t think any of us were expecting what actually happened.”

In her four years in a Boston University uniform, Maddie Elia took 101 penalties, accounting for 227 minutes in total. She led the team in penalty minutes each of her four seasons. Out of the senior class, defender Sarah Steele is second in penalty minutes at 66.

Ask her, and – with a laugh – the Lewiston, New York native will say that maybe ten of those penalties were justified.

“I feel like if they did not increase the rules, my penalties would have been way down. I was not that aggressive this year,” Elia said.

Maddie Elia in warmups at Maine (Max Wolpoff)

On top of the penalties, Elia has anchored BU’s second line and first power play unit for most of her four seasons. She ended her career with 112 points, finishing eighth overall in team history.

“I feel like every year, my style kind of adapts into something else,” she said. She went on describe her style at the Nichols School as “trying to be fancy all the time.”

It worked well in her senior year, captaining Nichols to the North American Prep Hockey Association and Conference of Independent Schools Athletic Association championships. She began her collegiate career the same way, but the results were not coming.

A conversation with head coach Brian Durocher pushed for a change. “I was more effective when I was working hard and making the simple plays, rather than trying to do too much.” She finished her freshman season fourth on the team with 28 points.

Elia enrolled at BU in 2013, the third of four consecutive years the Terriers won Hockey East. Elia scored in both Championship games against Boston College, with her goal in 2014 serving as the game-winner.

She counts hoisting the Bertagna Trophy twice as her favorite moments from her career.

“I think freshman and sophomore year were a bit more focused, and kind of knew our angle. We had great leaders like Pou [Marie-Philip Poulin], and Tino [Kayla Tutino], and Stoney [Sharon Stoneburgh], and so I think that really helped us out,” she said.

One constant in her last three seasons was junior Rebecca Leslie. Out of her 12 goals this season, Leslie assisted on eight of them. Conversely, on Leslie’s 16 goals, Elia factored in on six.

BU junior Rebecca Leslie (left) and Elia (right) in warmups at Walter Brwon Arena (Max Wolpoff)

“I think every year we become better friends,” Elia said of Leslie. “I do not think I have ever gotten tired of her.”

Following a then career high of 29 points as a junior, the Buffalo Beauts selected Elia with their final pick of the 2016 NWHL draft. The four-team league drafts players who, per their rules, “have completed their junior seasons at a four-year accredited college.”

However, Elia is unsure what she wants to do now that her collegiate career is over.

“I think I was so focused on hockey for so long I did not really think about anything else. Now, I am kind of realizing that I need to think about other things,” she said.

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Word Count: 588

JO 514: A Legacy of Greatness

474 Words

BOSTON — It is the time of year every show becomes “super.”

Store-fronts are decorated with team colors, athletes from other sports pick sides, and comedy shows have Super Bowl themed sketches. Saturday Night Live impersonated various celebrity Patriots and Flacons fans on “Celebrity Family Feud.” Jimmy Fallon’s annual Puppy Bowl had shelter dogs pick the winner.

But for the game between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, it is about more than the scoreline for one Tom Brady.

Brady, a Patriots sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Michigan in 2000, has started 235 games for the Patriots in his 17-year career. The 12-time Pro Bowler has won the league’s Most Valuable Player title twice, finishing second in voting to Matt Ryan of the Falcons this season.

The win would “secure him as the GOAT [Greatest of All Time] for sure,” said Joe of Concord, Massachusetts.

All-time, Brady sits fourth in touchdown passes with 456. Drew Brees, at 465 TD passes, is the only active quarterback ahead of Brady. The other two, Brett Favre (508) and Peyton Manning (539) are recently retired, with Favre going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

In six appearances in the Super Bowl, Brady is 4-2, with both losses coming against Eli Manning and the New York Giants. A fifth championship would give him the most wins by a quaterback in the title game, passing Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.

“It is the greatest accomplishment any one player can have in this sport” said Kyle Floyd of Philadelphia. “It would make the on-paper argument a lot stronger,” he continued. Floyd thinks the Patriots will ultimately win against the Falcons.

This season’s Patriots had to play the opening four games of the season without their starting quarterback. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Brady four games for his role in the Deflategate controversy that loomed over the 2014 Super Bowl win against the Seattle Seahawks.

Initially, the suspension was for the first four games of the 2015 season. A lengthy court fight secured Brady the chance to play all of that season, but the 2nd U.S  Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the suspension in April of 2016. Brady opted not to appeal further, accepting the suspension.

Gavin of Abbington, Masscachusetts thinks his legacy is already cemented. “It would probably be about the same at this point, since they won one of their first Super Bowls.” New England’s first title came in the 2001-02 season with a 20-17 win over the St. Louis Rams. The Rams were 14-point favorites in that game.

Backup quarterbacks Jimmy Garrapolo and Jacoby Brisset combined to go 3-1 in the games without Brady, only losing to the Buffalo Bills in week four.

Vibhav of Dover, New Hampshire thinks Montana — a four-time Super Bowl winner with the San Francisco 49ers — is better at this point in time, but a fifth title would give Brady the edge.

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JO 514: A Breif Intro to Max

Max Wolpoff

389 words

It started entirely by accident.

Max Wolpoff walked out of his journalism exam and checked his phone. Normally, there are anywhere from 10 to 20 notifications after four hours of being on silent. That day, he estimates about 100 different alerts, most of them about him.

Two days earlier, he provided play-by-play for Boston University’s 6-5 overtime win against Minnesota in Women’s hockey. He put his call of the overtime winner online that night and thought nothing of it.

“Suddenly, I’m famous,” Wolpoff said. “This was not supposed to happen at 20.”

If not for sports, Wolpoff would be an actor. He once dreamed of the bright lights of Broadway and the flashbulbs of Hollywood as he slept at home in Maryland. His first searches for universities were based on conservatory versus open theater schools. That was were Boston University ended up on his radar.

“I needed more than just the smiling pictures online to convince me,” Wolpoff said. This philosophy guided his decision to apply for the Boston University Summer Theater Institute — a live-in summer program for prospective theater students.

Right away, Wolpoff knew something was not right. He was the lone visible sports fan of the group. His roommate understood none of his idioms or references when he spoke. “The transition sucked,” he said.

Then 16-year-old Wolpoff toughed it out for the five-week program, often not buying into the program’s teachings. “As much as I enjoyed the theatrical aspect, that was all it was to me: theater. I never thought like an actor when I was off-stage,” he said.

He continued to act in high school when he returned home, but “nothing felt right anymore,” as he put it. “I did everything I used to do leading up to a show, but I did not get the same excitement I used to get.”

Four years ago, he did not envision broadcasting a hockey game at Madison Square Garden in his freshman year. Three years ago, right before graduation, there was no indication he would go viral while calling a Women’s hockey game in his sophomore year. “I was just worried about doing something in sports,” he said.

Wolpoff settled on broadcasting because it joined his stage presence from eight years of theater with his passion for sports. “I had no experience when I came to BU. All I had was a dream.”

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