Shields keep Blue Devil football team in the game

By Bob Parasiliti Hagerstown Herald-Mail
Echo Pilot
Greencastle-Antrim assistant football coach Mike Hull, left, spoke with Jake Kumfert, center, and John Redos during the Oct. 2 game against Waynesboro. The coach wore a gaiter, while the players had protective shields in their helmets.

Ben Franklin was on to something when he said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

But the original “Big Ben” didn’t have anything to do with football, a world where time and preventive practice measures are the cure against injuries.

The Greencastle-Antrim football program took it a step further. A small investment was the cure for saving the Blue Devils’ season — or at least a major part of it.

Greencastle avoided a near catastrophe that has become synonymous with playing football in a virus-laced world with one addition to the team’s equipment.

It purchased and outfitted its teams with the Schutt Splash Shield, a plastic guard which is affixed inside a helmet’s face mask, becoming a face covering against COVID-19 during practices and competition.

“I was never so grateful for the investment,” said G-A athletic director Vicki Ritchey. “(Health officials) said it was the difference between us playing or going into quarantine.”

The mask was put to the test almost immediately. Greencastle opened its season on Sept. 25 at Susquehanna Township and came away with a huge victory.

Make that two victories.

After the game, a Susquehanna Township player tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the Indians into quarantine. The Blue Devils were next on the list.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health approached Dr. Lura Hanks, G-A superintendent, about the situation. The Blue Devils were going to be shut down, too.

During the process, Hanks mentioned Greencastle’s addition of the plastic shields. The health department investigated the situation and decided the shields in fact prevented any Greencastle players from becoming infected.

“We were notified today that our varsity football players had a potential exposure to a positive COVID-19 case during the game on Friday night,” Hanks wrote in a release announcing the Blue Devils were in the clear. “After working with our Pa. Department of Health, it was determined that our players were safe guarded appropriately and therefore further steps are unnecessary. 

“In preparation for the season, our football helmets were equipped with protective shields that cover the eyes, nose, and mouth.  All players adhered to our mask mandate when helmets were off. It was due to this vigilance that we are able to continue to learn and play.”

The ounce

Innocently enough, Greencastle was ultimately saved by an email.

Ritchey received a midsummer sales message, offering the splash shields.

“We were in the process of getting our health and safety procedures together for summer workouts,” Ritchey said. “I looked at (the email) and said it looked expensive and put it off because we didn’t know if we would be playing.”

Workouts began June 22 and coach Devin McCauley approached the school’s Quarterback Club about getting gaiters — a stretchy sleeve used as a face covering that sits around the neck and is pulled up to cover the mouth and nose — for the players to wear on the field and sideline.

Then, as the state moved to start competition, it was taken a step further.

“We looked into the face shields when we started understanding the face-mask rule,” McCauley said. “If someone has COVID and you are masked up, you’re aren’t considered exposed.”

Greencastle revisited the masks.

They came in two pieces — one to cover eyes and the other for the nose and mouth — which fit inside of a helmet and are attached by 16 Velcro fasteners, eight for each piece. After consulting health officials, the Blue Devils didn’t need to wear the eye shields, which steamed up during play.

Ritchey ordered 45 kits — which equipped three helmets each — on Aug. 21. The investment was around $875 and outfitted 113 players, covering everyone from varsity to middle school.

“We were lucky,” Ritchey said. “We got some of the last in stock. We got 35 kits in a week and then had to wait for 10 on back order.”

The prevention

With the addition of the gaiters and Splash Shields, Greencastle has created a COVID-19 combat culture.

Wearing face coverings at all times is just as important as doing stretches when the Blue Devils take the field.

“When the helmets are on, the gaiters can stay down,” McCauley said. “When the helmets are off, the gaiters come up.”

It’s become a common practice for the football team, for players and coaches alike.

“Our football players and coaches have done a phenomenal job,” Ritchey said. “They all realize that football is the biggest contact sport of all. Everyone is so close and both the players and coaches have to work with opposing players and coaches.

“They are all diligent about it because they know we have to do it to be able to play.”

The word is out about the Splash Shields and Ritchey has had a couple of schools calling to inquire about them — including Susquehanna Township.

When it comes down to it, COVID-19 combat culture is another thing that is so 2020.

“I don’t like wearing a mask,” McCauley said. “I’d rather be playing football than fighting someone about wearing a mask.”