I remember when I first heard it. It was 1989, in a gym where two cross-court basketball games were being played at the same time. It was a sound of a whistle unlike anything I’d ever heard from the conventional pea whistles that were in use at the time. I had just heard the Fox 40, the new pea-less whistle.
I knew two things right away: One, I had to get one of these whistles, and, two, within a year or two, I predicted no official would ever want to use a whistle with a pea in it again. I was right. Serious officials don’t use whistles with peas in them anymore.
The pealess whistle was a game changer. We all knew that. But, officials couldn’t have known if the Fox 40 itself would be a game changer. A lot of people invent a product and either lack the business savvy, the legal savvy, or the financing to fend off competition, expand their markets, and recoup their R&D costs. Well, Ron Foxcroft from Fox 40 pulled it off. He’s a leader in safety whistles, outdoor whistles, officials’ whistles. I don’t know if he has any serious competition. He has efficient distribution channels and production systems. There aren’t a lot of openings for a serious competitor.
Now, fast-forward to the fall of 2011. We’d just endured a summer during which a number of high school athletes died from heat stroke. Awareness about heat illness was high, but we all had to wonder whether there was there some scientific warning system that would tell us that an athlete was overheated and had to stop exercising, right then and now.
One day I was looking at mouthguards and, lo and behold, there was a mouth guard that changed colors if an athlete’s core temperature got too high; in effect, a heat stroke early warning system. And, the mouthguard was designed to be foolproof: a cup of coffee wouldn't throw it off; more important, a quick gulp of ice water wouldn't fool it either.
Who made this great mouthguard? You guessed it: Fox 40, the whistle guys! They call their mouthguard the Heat Alert. The change in color really does give coaches, athletes, and athletic trainers an early warning.
When you factor in R&D time, it’s obvious that Fox 40 had the Heat Alert in the product pipeline before the awful summer of 2011. They did it because it was the right thing to do.
The big question now is will the Fox 40 Heat Alert Mouthguard catch on? I have no idea. It’s a potential game changer, but athletes may not immediately fall in love with it the way officials took to the pealess whistle. Also, Fox 40 has obstacles to overcome: develop brand awareness, fend off competition, and recoup their R&D costs in what seems like a much tougher and more competitive sports safety equipment market. So, it’s not likely that the Heat Alert Mouthguard will dominate the market, but it’s made by a company that has other product lines, has a good distribution network, has good marketing, and can probably control costs. The product will likely stick around and be a permanent part of the mouthguard market.
In the end, it’s really up to athletes to wear them, their parents to buy them, and doctors, coaches, and athletic trainers to recommend them.
Here’s hoping for everyone's sake that happens.
Important Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed by the author about the efficacy of the Fox 40 Heat Alert Mouth Guard are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of MomsTEAM. Experts in the field of heat illness safety, including MomsTEAM's Susan Yeargin and Doug Casa of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut, have advised us that they are not aware of any independent study showing that the device does what it says it does, and are concerned that parents buying the mouth guard may believe that it protects their child from heat illness or that it somehow relieves parents, coaches, athletic trainers and athletes from knowing the signs of heat illness and being proactive in preventing heat illness in other ways, such as cancelling or modifying practices in high heat and humidity, moving practices to the cooler part of the day, providing for frequent rest and fluid breaks, and making sure athletes are properly acclimatized to the heat.