James Ferguson, a native of Scotland with a background in engineering, became interested in head injury prevention because of his six children and their love of soccer.

“A lot of kids were very afraid of heading the ball, so I made a honeycomb device called the ‘Clash Band,'” Ferguson said. “It took the sting out of heading the ball and gave them confidence so they can develop the muscles in the neck and teach them how to not hurt themselves. But I never intended to do anything with it or make it.”

Now, Ferguson’s Winthrop company, Alba-Technic LLC, is one of five across the country to receive $250,000 to help develop technology to protect against head injuries. The award was announced Tuesday by the NFL, Under Armour and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Alba-Technic has developed “a patented, shock-absorbent honeycomb material with an outer layer that diverts the energy from a fall or hit,” according to a press release. It is one of the winners of Head Health Challenge III, a competition to develop materials to improve “protective gear, playing surfaces, and equipment for athletes, members of the military and others,” the release said.

While the products designed by Ferguson’s company could primarily be used to combat against concussions, there are other applications outside of just a helmet.

“The combination of materials we have is patented and we can use that material behavior in other products including shoulder protection, hip protection and pelvic protection,” he said.


Former Gardiner football coach Matt Burgess said Tuesday it’s neat to see a company from Maine leading a competition with companies from larger states.

“It underscores the fact that folks in Maine care about youth sports,” Burgess said. “That kind of ingenuity has existed here for a while.”

Burgess and Winthrop/Monmouth coach Dave St. Hilaire said the increased attention on player safety has had an impact on the field. St. Hilaire said he takes special precaution with his players, including trying to minimize contact during practice and not playing any athlete with a history of concussions on special teams.

“It certainly has changed the way I coach,” St. Hilaire said. “We swear by our trainers and go with what they say. We don’t take any risks.”

Burgess agreed that his coaching style has changed, and he works with players about teaching techniques that don’t involve the head, including heads-up tackling.

Alba-Technic, on Route 133, has a good handle on how to prevent concussions, and Ferguson said there are other sports applications for their work.


Each of the five winners selected to receive the $250,000 will now go on to compete for a grand prize of $500,000. Ferguson said his company of four will embark on a year-long journey to continue working on their product development with the help of Michael Maher, program manager for the Defense Sciences Offices at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and one the contest’s judges.

“The innovations in material science that we’ve seen in this challenge will have significant applications in a range of equipment that will better protect our athletes, soldiers, children and others,” said Jeff Miller, NFL senior vice president of health and safety policy, in the press release.

Other winners of the challenge were from Georgia, Massachusetts, California and Michigan.

Although the press release makes no specific reference to concussions or brain injuries suffered by professional football players, it does note that the NFL has instituted 39 rule changes in the last 10 years to improve safety and that it “makes significant investments in independent research” to deal with injuries to current and former players.

On Christmas Day, the movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith and Alec Baldwin, will be released. The film is based on the life of Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who researched brain damage suffered by professional football players. The NFL fought against Omalu and sought to discredit his research and deny that a problem existed.

Concussions happen every week around the league, often more than once per game. In Sunday night’s New England Patriots game, Houston Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer left the game with a concussion, his second of the season. And in November, it was revealed that Hall of Famer Frank Gifford suffered from CTE, the degenerative brain condition caused by repetitive brain trauma researched and publicized by Omalu.

Within the last two weeks, Ferguson signed an agreement with a high-level management company to handle its production, intellectual property and legal business planning and business development and marketing. He said they are “getting geared up to head into the market.”

“We worked at this very, very hard,” he said. “Everyone understands the end point and what we’re trying to achieve, which a huge difference to the quality of living for a lot of people.”

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