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High tech down markers to debut at Central Catholic

High tech down markers to debut at Central Catholic

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BLOOMINGTON — Trivia buffs should brace themselves.

Someday they may be asked where the high tech down markers used at all football games made their national debut in a regular-season high school contest.

The answer will be Friday's 7 p.m. battle between Pontiac and Central Catholic at the Saints' Bill Hundman Memorial Field where a Lazser Down prototype will be used.

Mike Foster, the father of Central Catholic principal Sean Foster, has been developing the system for 11 years and hopes to offer the patented invention for sale next January.  

Lazser Down is similar to the equipment currently used by chain gangs on the sidelines except the down and distance are illuminated atop rechargeable battery powered markers that can link with scoreboards to communicate the down and distance to a first down.

Mike Foster, who coached for 30 years, was often frustrated with how long it took to get accurate distances for a first down, a key factor in play calling.  

Lazser Down markers communicate with each other via radio waves to calculate the distance to a first down automatically. Even the fastest no-huddle offense can't outpace the Lazser Down system.

A 64-year-old Kansas City resident, Foster has had about a dozen prototypes made over the years. Last season, Tulane used the system at home games. This year, Nebraska and Notre Dame used it for their spring games.  

Foster's dream is to have Lazser Down at every game including those in the NFL. 

"The Chiefs, Cowboys and Saints have seen it," he said. "The NFL has (shown interest), but they are slow to change."

Sean Foster says it's exciting to see his father's hard work near fruition. 

"I remember the first time he told me about the idea," the younger Foster said. "He was up in the press box. I think he was a defensive coordinator at the time and needed to call the play. He wasn't sure if it was third-and-a-yard or third-and-a-foot. He was always frustrated with that.

"We're really proud to be able to say we're the first high school to be able to use it. I'm optimistic that we're going to see it quite a bit in the future."

The Saints will only have one Lazser Down marker on Friday, but they hope to receive a second later in the season that will indicate the distance to a first down.

The NFL and most colleges use Dial-a-Down brand markers, which were invented by Jim Egender, a member of Lazser Down's advisory team. Egender's patent expired so he is not in competition with Laszer Down.

"He was very instrumental in helping me get this off the ground," said Mike Foster, who is not ready to announce the retail price for his invention.

Sean Foster credits his father's persistence for getting Laszer Down this far.

"He has a lot of grit," said the son. "I think most people would have given up a long time ago."

Mike Foster and his investors have combined to pour more than $500,000 into the invention so far. He hopes to sell his company after it's established in four or five years.

The elder Foster's first prototype actually had lasers, but using radio frequencies help make the markers lighter and more affordable. 

"There is still a laser component to it," Mike Foster said. "When you take the chains out to do a measurement, we have a laser down on the bottom of it."

If the laser hits the ball, it's first-and-10.

Players colliding with the markers on the sideline will find them safer than current markers because they are lighter (at 5.4 pounds instead of 10) and 60 percent of the surface area is covered with protective foam.

Numbers are displayed at 13-inch heights and three-inch widths. The markers' housings are the same polycarbonate used in NFL helmets. 

"So it's real thin, but it won't break or splinter," said Mike Foster, noting the poles are aluminum. "Everything we did was built to NFL specifications."

Contact Randy Sharer at (309) 820-3405. Follow him on Twitter: @PG_sharer

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