Flag football is becoming one of the fastest-growing youth sports in the country. A report from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association shows over 6.5 million people play.
Many consider it to be a safer alternative to tackle, but some leagues are now requiring kids to use helmets.
Gabriel Crout, 8, doesn't remember much about the day when he collided head-on with a teammate during a flag football game.
"He had a pretty deep gash," Gabriel's mom Somer recalled. "I grabbed him by the face and held him close and said, 'Can you hear me?' and his eyes rolled back and he started to seize and pass out."
Gabriel was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a concussion. The incident was one of several that prompted Southern Maryland Youth Flag Football League Commissioner Reggie Barksdale to make a change. For the first time this season, he is requiring that all players wear helmets.
"The first couple of weeks were rough, but now everybody knows that they need their helmet," Barksdale said.
There are 250 players on the league's roster this fall, ranging in age from 4-14. The soft-shell helmets the players are using are among several that were tested by Virginia Tech's Helmet Lab.
Earlier this year, the Helmet Lab released its first-ever safety ratings for flag football headgear by ranking which consumer models reduce concussion risk. A five-star rating is the best.
"Concussions, when that head to head impact happens, you know, head accelerations are going to occur," Dr. Barry Miller explained. "If we can reduce those by 70% or more, then that's kind of elicits the five-star rating."
Barksdale has noticed the impact on the field.
"We've had a few collisions, but each kid bounces back up, so after I see that, I feel good about my decision," he said.
Gabriel and his mom are glad his former team has helmets, and Gabriel said he believes it could have made a difference in his injury last year.
"It would have probably just been a little cut and I could have just put a band-aid on it and kept playing."