The vision that changed the way many professional athletes view
their sports today struck New England businessman Ed Jarvis
after the opening kickoff of the Brooks School's 1994 season
bounced off his son's helmet. Ryan Jarvis, a junior return man
and tailback at the North Andover, Mass., prep school, not only
misplayed that ball but also, on an ensuing punt return, fielded
another ball with his shoulder pads. Ryan was relieved of his
returning duties for the afternoon and the remainder of his prep
At the final whistle Ed Jarvis rushed to the field and began
searching for the cause of Ryan's sloppy performance. He slipped
on Ryan's helmet. Ryan was playing his first game with a clear
plastic shield over his face mask to protect his left eye. He
had lost the vision in his right eye the previous spring when a
basketball teammate accidentally poked him there and severed the
optic nerve. Doctors okayed Ryan's return to athletics on the
condition that he wear an eye shield. "I put on Ryan's helmet
after the game, and everything looked twisted and distorted,"
says Ed. "Everything looked farther away than it really was. I
wanted Ryan to have a better shield. It became a mission."
An obsession would be more accurate. Jarvis left his position as
CEO of Demakes Enterprises, Inc., a food-distribution firm in
Lynn, Mass., to focus on developing a better facial shield for
Ryan. With the same determination he had brought to other
business ventures, Jarvis set out to learn all he could about
eye protection, attending ophthalmic seminars and consulting eye
doctors who worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Jarvis says he was shocked to learn that most shields were crude
plastic visors made solely for protection, with little regard
for optical correctness. Their distortion, optical experts said,
occurred because the plastic was shaped to fit football helmets
but not properly curved to allow for accurate vision. The
experts were even able to trace Ryan's severe headaches to the
shields. "It was like wearing glasses with the wrong
prescription," Ed says. "I would ask manufacturers why there
weren't protective shields that were optically correct, and they
would say, 'We don't know if there's a market for it. Plus, it
takes a lot of work and money.'"
The best optically correct shields were those worn by military
fighter pilots. Those shields were aspherically curved along
both the horizontal and vertical axes, minimizing the bending of
light and thereby allowing the eye to more easily gauge distance
and shape. Jarvis wanted to copy the design of those shields and
use the same scratch-proof coating that NASA uses on astronauts'
Jarvis's passion for the project helped secure the necessary
$1.5 million in start-up costs. "I hear about 5,000 proposals a
year, but this story of a father's devotion to his son was just
too much," says Frederick Fritz, president of BancBoston Venture
Capital, which became the principal backer of Jarvis's new
company, One Xcel. "But we weren't sure if there was a true
market for it."
It didn't take long to find out. Within 18 months of its launch
in January 1995, One Xcel had made deals with both the NFL and
the NHL to become the official eye shield of each league. "We
were aware that there were players complaining about headaches
from their shields," says Chris Widmaier, the NFL's director of
corporate communications. "We just weren't aware that there were
Promoting One Xcel to the players, who usually abhor putting
anything between their eyes and the ball or puck, was
surprisingly easy. When Jarvis visited the Boston Bruins, the
gripe among the players was that the old shields made the puck
look smaller than it is. Jarvis began his lecture but was cut
short when Ray Bourque, Don Sweeney, Kyle McLaren and Jozef
Stumpel grabbed One Xcel samples and slipped onto the ice. They
have been wearing them ever since.
Deals with major college football programs such as Florida and
Notre Dame helped push the company's first-year sales to just
under $5 million. Last June, Jarvis sold the company to Oakley,
Inc., but he remains its director of sports optical equipment.
Ryan, now a sophomore at Bates College, a Division III school in
Lewiston, Maine, is a reserve linebacker for the Bobcats,
wearing his dad's eye shield. "A lot of parents would have done
nothing about it, so I know how special Dad's accomplishment
is," Ryan says. "I thought about it all the time last year when
I was returning kicks."