Students hope app tackles football concussion crisis head on

Pine Crest is one of 2 local schools leading national app challenge

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.An app with games to help users manage money was leading the way on The Verizon Innovative App Challenge's Fan Favorite contest Thursday afternoon. An app to help students coordinate carpooling before and after school followed with about 1,000 votes less.

And the Fort Lauderdale-based Pine Crest School team followed closely in third place with an app to help football coaches and training staff monitor their players' safety. Their invention comes at a time when professional players and parents are more aware than ever about  the brain-injury risks of football.

The seventh-grade students created a helmet that collects data on the force from an impact capable of causing the brain to strike the inner surface of the skull. If their app works as they envision, coaches on the sidelines will get immediate analysis of what goes on out in the field.   

"We are fighting to make football safer and reduce the risk of traumatic brain injuries," said Jordan Shiff, a member of the Pine Crest School team, who said she loves Will Smith's movie "Concussion."

The nationwide Verizon Innovative App Challenge inspires middle school and high school students to come up with an idea for an app that is capable of solving a problem.

The private school's team includes five 13-year-old students -- two girls and three boys. One of them, Trey Santarelli, plays football for the school. Last year when he was playing against American Heritage Plantation, he was hit so hard a coach removed him from the field. He was under a pileup so the coach couldn't gage the severity of the hit. 

Concussions can occur after a violent collision causes the brain to move inside the skull. Some of the symptoms children can experience include confusion, slurred speech and drowsiness. NFL players repeated hits are linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The brain disease can cause impulse control problems, depression and dementia.

Despite changes to reduce the risk of concussions, there are parents who believe kids should not be allowed to play football or wait until they are in high school. Trey, who is in seventh grade at Pine Crest, is a defensive back and wide receiver. His mom, Michelle Santarelli, was at the game when he was hit and she is aware of the impact of sports-related brain injuries. 

"He was kept out of the game for the duration of the game due to concerns, but was never diagnosed with a concussion," Santarelli said. "Our trainers do a good job being proactive about concussion concerns and I am grateful that Trey was not allowed back in the game that day."

Trey and the other creators of the app refer to their invention as FTDC, or The Force Transmission Data Collector. Pine Crest student football players participated in the testing of the prototype. Most recently, a football player wore it during practice while hitting a dummy, Pine Crest School's innovation specialist Keri Kolettis said.

Kolettis said the students embedded eight force sensors in the shell of the helmet and they set up a microcomputer to wirelessly transmit the data for real-time analysis. They have prepared their prototype to take the hits and "protected the circuit board interface with a Mr. Clean cleaning pad," Kolettis said.

Only the best state teams in the nation get to participate in the "fan favorite" contest, which allows the public to vote via text message. The teams' codes and presentations are on display at the Verizon Innovative App Challenge website

A Miami-Dade County public school was also among the top 10 fan favorites in the national competition. The Ives Estates-based Dr. Michael M. Krop High School 's team designed an app that is meant to help the hearing impaired.

They envision their LanguaSign app would be capable of translating some 130 versions of sign language. And "there is no translator app that translates from sign language to written text,"  Dr. Michael M. Krop High School team member Ben Manley said. Their app would change that. 

To make it to the competition, the Dr. Michael M. Krop High School team won the best in the state challenge. The Pine Crest School's team was one of the six best in the region, which also includes teams from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas.

If either of the teams from South Florida wins the contest, the long list of awards includes tablets, a $15,000 grant and support from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Mobile Learning to build the app. Voting for the fan favorite contest ends Jan. 31. And the winners of the best in the nation contest will be announced Feb. 2. 



To vote for the fan favorite award text FTDC2 to 22333.


To vote for the fan favorite award text LANGUASIGN2 to 22333.


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