From youth to college to pro sports, everyone's looking for a way to stop the concussion crisis.
Now, a Casa Grande man is hoping his invention will be a game changer.
It’s a washable, pliable skullcap that can be used under existing helmets and headgear for everything from football and baseball, to boxing & bull riding.
We’ve all seen the crushing hits and punishing blows.
[RELATED: Football helmet technology is improving]
Peaches Florez has two sons who played for the Casa Grande Union High football team and says she’s well aware of the statistics of concussions in contact sports.
“It’s frightening. It's very frightening,” Florez said.
Both her boys, Sam and Josh, have had concussions, and they admit that adrenaline often overrides playing it safe to keep your head in the game.
“It just gets into your blood where you just don’t want to stop,” Josh Florez said.
The long-term effects of repetitive hits and bruising blows to the brain, got Arizona inventor, Bob Ferguson thinking.
"There’s a clear epidemic in this country with concussions no question about it," Ferguson said.
“The kids, they’ve got to have another layer of protection,” he said.
He experimented with 15 different materials and several formulas over the last few years, testing them through four independent labs.
He says his SkullTec skullcap has patented 3mm gel inserts that can be worn under any headgear absorbing the G-force from impacts, reducing trauma, then recovering instantly.
"Across the board, we reduced impact anywhere from 15 to 63 percent," Ferguson said.
That's a lot, considering what the naked eye can't see.
Only slow-motion footage can truly capture the force of impacts powerful enough to make hard helmets wobble like Jell-O when they take a hit.
“The impact goes through the helmet right into the head,” Ferguson said, describing what his lab tests revealed.
He doesn’t have a loved one who got hurt or a specific personal connection that’s made this labor of love his passion project.
Ferguson says he just loves sports, saw a need, and decided to come up with a solution.
While an inventor’s inspiration is always fascinating, the same can be said of their persistence and background.
Ferguson grew up in the small town of Eloy, Ariz. then came to Casa Grande where he says he worked his way up from employee to manager at a local plant, then went on to shoeing horses, then exporting hay to Saudia Arabia while courting investors and perfecting his invention.
He didn’t even graduate college.
And now, his company's reportedly valued at $3 million with international sales.
His office is lined with endorsements including a letter from a leading neurologist from Barrow calling the SkullTec “extremely promising.”
Dr. Gregory Stewart sees a few kids a week for concussion consultations at OSPI, the Orthopedic & Sports Performance Institute in Gilbert.
“It’s always in the back of my mind. Not only as a healthcare provider- but as a parent,” Stewart said.
His team works as volunteer physicians for five local high school and community college football squads that just made state playoffs.
“This is something that’s relatively inexpensive & fairly practical,” Stewart said.
At $49.99, Ferguson said he wanted to make sure to keep the cost down to help more people.
Even Dr. Stewart's 13-year-old son wears one.
"Think about just your skin. Sometimes you look down and think, 'Oh, where did that bruise come from? That wasn't a bad hit or anything,' Maybe you don’t even remember it, but it bruised. So think about the same thing happening, in a skull," Stewart said.
Ferguson's sales pitch at trade shows is pretty show-stopping.
He puts a sheet of his thin gel over his hand then uses a solid steel trailer hitch to bang it repeatedly.
Peaches Florez says that’s what sold her.
She bought one for each of her boys.
Josh did still get one concussion after that, but only because he wasn’t wearing his Skulltec.
Ferguson says most his business comes from concerned parents like Florez.
“Their kid got a concussion, then got released to play & they're scared to death. They’re saying, ‘Look, I've got to find everything I can to help my son before he steps back out on that field,” Ferguson said.
“They're buying our product because they're looking for more safety!”
He says his clients also include professional athletes from just about every sport who aren't allowed to talk about it because of team endorsements.
"We've got professional football players who are wearing it this year, professional bull riders, the fencing industry, jockeys, hockey players, skateboarders,
BMX riders, snowmobile riders, and downhill skiers," Ferguson said.
The possibilities are endless.
One reason why he didn't simply sell his patent to a helmet company as some advisors suggested, because that would limit him from protecting athletes in other sports.
Derek Price runs the clinic with Dr. Stewart.
“Every sport we're seeing concussions,” Price said.
He played for the Detroit Lions two years. And as part of the NFL concussion settlement lawsuit, was offered free testing & diagnostics to see the long-term effects of the hits he took.
“Can you imagine if I said, ‘Hey, come to the neurologist's office.’ I did a brain scan then say, 'Yeah, you have this thing wrong with you and you're probably going to die young & go crazy. Good luck! Goodbye,’ Like, who's signing up for that?”
“We don't glorify the big hits around here,” Price said.
Once you have a concussion, you're seven times more likely to get another.
So his team works with players and coaches and parents to focus on prevention.
"We tell them to play safe, play smart, play long," Price said.
He says he also tells each of his athletes about Skulltec.
“It’s another layer of protection,” Ferguson said.
For the Florez family, this simple game changer is a no-brainer.
“It’s priceless,” said Peaches Florez.
While some leagues and teams are reluctant to put anything under a helmet that might change the liability or warranty, Ferguson says he's in talks with Major League Baseball & Title Boxing.
The head coach at McClintock High here in Phoenix says he is working right now, to make sure, even if it takes a team fundraiser, he wants each of his players to have a Skulltec next season!
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