Faculty member’s invention will monitor athletes’ weight, dehydration

East Carolina University associate professor Sharon Rogers has spent hours weighing high school football players before and after practice.

A certified athletic trainer, Rogers wanted to find a more efficient way to ensure the safety of athletes at risk for dehydration while saving time during weigh ins at practices.

That led Rogers to invent the Sportscale, a kiosk-like device that combines a typical scale footplate with a computerized data retrieval system and fingerprint identifier.

ECU professor Sharon Rogers' invention, pictured above, will help monitor athletes' levels of dehydration during sports practices.

ECU professor Sharon Rogers’ invention, pictured above, will help monitor athletes’ levels of dehydration during sports practices.

Rogers’ prototype – developed and fine-tuned in Pitt County – is expected in time for fall sports. She was issued a U.S. patent for the device on Feb. 17.

“As medical professionals, we want to make sure people are not leaving practice unusually dehydrated,” said Rogers, who teaches in the Department of Health Education and Promotion in the College of Health and Human Performance. “It’s important to monitor weight in periods of high heat and humidity. Assessing for the hydration needs of athletes after exercise is important because safety is paramount.”

Dehydration occurs when someone uses or loses more fluid than they take in, leaving the body without enough water and other fluids to perform normal activities. Athletes are considered dehydrated if they lose 3 percent or more of their weight due to sweating or not drinking enough water during exercise. It’s not unheard of for heavier athletes, for instance, to lose 5 percent or more of their weight during intense preseason training sessions, Rogers said.

While mild or moderate dehydration can usually be reversed by drinking more fluid, severe dehydration requires immediate medical care.

Rogers envisions football, wrestling, soccer, cross country – any sport that recommends the monitoring of athletes’ weight – to benefit from her invention, especially in high schools. Athletic trainers and coaches have multiple responsibilities but must find time for what is currently a cumbersome process of assessing weight loss, she said.

“We do hope we can continue to make it applicable for more sports and more settings,” Rogers said. The military, public safety and other jobs with fitness requirements could be areas for expansion.

Rogers got the idea during preseason football workouts in August 2011.

“I had eight ankles to tape, and 110 players to weigh. I’m standing there with a clipboard thinking there’s got to be an easier way,” Rogers said. “I started looking around the Internet but there wasn’t anything applicable.”

Rogers oversees and coordinates a program providing athletic trainers to the Pitt County Schools to meet North Carolina High School Athletic Association requirements that each high school designate either an athletic trainer or a first responder at all football activities. Athletic trainers are medical professionals with a four-year undergraduate degree who have passed a national board certification exam and have state licensure. A first responder is anyone who passes a first aid and CPR course.

Because of the service agreement with Pitt County, Rogers will test the prototype in other parts of North Carolina to avoid conflict of interest.

“Sharon is passionate about her commitment to keep student athletes safe. You see that in her passion as an athletic trainer, as a trainer of athletic trainers, and as a researcher and university educator,” said Marti Van Scott, director of the ECU Office of Technology Transfer. “It’s this passion that has driven Sharon to find a solution to a problem that will streamline the process of assessing student athletes for injury during hot, humid weather.”

Rogers is partnering with a product development specialist to market the device commercially soon.

She has worked closely with engineer Sean Flanagan, owner of FlanTec, an engineering design, factory automation and product development corporation, to build the Sportscale prototype. It’s currently in his shop off Staton Road.

Robert Rankin, an ECU junior mechanical engineering major from Burgaw, developed the software for the device while working the past two years with Flanagan. “I’ve probably got close to 100 pages of code,” Rankin said.

The password and passcode-protected information will be stored to allow athletic trainers or site administrators to view each athlete’s progress including date of practice, time of weigh in and weigh out. Athletes will be required to use fingerprint identification for verification and log in.

“If this device can get integrated into the mainstream, it will positively affect the health and safety of athletes because the weight collection process will be easier, quicker and reliable,” Rogers said. “I can generate a report from the data that compares the before and after weights. It will tell you who exceeds 3 percent just like that.”

Rogers is now in licensing negotiations, and hopes to tout her invention in the coming months at trade shows targeted at athletic directors and athletic trainers.

Robert Rankin, an ECU junior mechanical engineering major, developed the software for the device while working the past two years with Flanagan

Robert Rankin, an ECU junior mechanical engineering major, developed the software for the device while working the past two years with Flanagan