New Jersey-based Hummingbird Sports owner Rob Stolker has four daughters, and as someone who was always playing sports growing up, he encouraged his girls to do the same when they were old enough.

So when his two youngest came to him eight years ago and said they wanted to take up lacrosse, Stolker didn't hesitate to tell them yes, despite not knowing anything about the sport at the time.

But after being roped in as an assistant coach, he learned quickly — and it wasn't all good from his perspective.

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"I got to the field and I couldn't believe what I saw: The boys were on one field wearing big, hard helmets, pads, and the girls were on another, wearing just goggles to protect their eyes," Stolker said.

Stolker figured that had to be a problem, and the more players he talked to, present and past, the more he realized it was.

"One single ball, accidental stick to the head, accidental ball to the head, what that does to them not a month later, which is horrific, year later, no, eight years, 10 years -- most likely, forever later," he said.

Changing the culture

The dearth of headgear in girls' lacrosse is exacerbated by what Stolker calls the culture of the sport, where he said the powers-that-be at USA Lacrosse, along with many other former players and parents, have the attitude that "girls don't wear helmets" or "they don't need them."

But after seeing live game action, he felt he could not let his own daughters play unless they were the goalie — the only position that is helmeted in the girls' game.

It all amounted to a sense in Stolker's mind that the game itself was being made more important than the safety of its youth players.

"The culture is a certain way," he said. "I always say if you went to a ski slope 15 or 20 years ago and you went to a good skiier with a helmet, they would have looked at you and said, 'Get out of here, I'm a good skiier.' They probably wouldn't have liked you for even insinuating they wear a helmet."

New Jersey drags its feet

In Florida, helmets are required for girls' lacrosse at the high school level, and Stolker said a study showed head injuries decreased by 59% while participants felt the spirit of the game did not change.

Yet New Jersey, he said, has done nothing.

But not for Stolker's lack of trying. He has created what he said is the first-ever patented, certified headgear designed for youth female lacrosse players.

Now, he just wants USA Lacrosse to back it.

"I am calling them out and saying you need to do the right thing by mandating that every girl in the country plays the great game of girls' lacrosse with their heads protected," Stolker said.

He suggests anyone seeking more information check out brainsafetyalliance.com.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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