With high school football in full swing across the county, again, parents, coaches, trainers and doctors are looking at the safety of football helmets. New helmets have hit the market, and the football field, however, it appears concussions will continue to be an issue.
In Arlington, Virginia, high schools have replaced ever football helmet for higher rated helmets in hopes of reducing concussions. These schools are participating in a study being done by a local university. The new helmet is regarded by players and coaching staffs as safer than the previous year’s models. The helmet, a Riddell Revolution Speed model, was given a five-star rating developed by Virginia Tech. The ratings are intended to help identify helmets that are potentially dangerous.
While no school in Virginia was found to have helmets rated at zero stars, there was a single one-star helmet found in the inventory of one school and quite a few schools that had two-star helmets. One problem with the lower rated helmets is that they do not fit players’ heads correctly as the higher rated offerings seem to. Adjustments were made by changing out foam pads. On the five-star helmets, there are air pockets that can be adjusted to fit a player’s head just right, but they are not perfect.
If a player is hit hard, the chance of sustaining a concussion is still present, even with the newer helmets. In Colorado, Dylan McCaffrey, the son of former Denver Bronco Ed McCaffrey, suffered a mild-concussion in the second game of the season. McCaffrey, a sophomore for defending state champion Valor Christian, ran in the game’s only first half score before taking a hit that caused a mild concussion. That mild concussion did not knock McCaffrey out and he did not need on field care from trainers, but he could not play the rest of the game. The helmet the young quarterback was wearing may have been a contributing factor for a mild concussion over a severe concussion.
A school in Norfolk, VA and three schools in Williamsburg have gone another step further. Against county school administration advice, the four schools added sensors to the helmets that send impact data to trainers on the sideline. When a player sustains a hit to the helmet, trainers now can know the level or severity of the impact and pull the player. This could reveal concussions that are not easily noticed. A player could be on the receiving end of a severe hit, and continue playing, not thinking anything about it. That player potentially could have suffered a concussion and not know it. The ability to have data recovered from the sensor on the helmet would tell the trainer there is a potential concussion hit that just occurred, and pull the player off the field to evaluate them before they are cleared to return to action or sidelined for the remainder of the game or longer.
Camas High School in Oregon is also using a combination of the Riddell helmets and InSite sideline response system sensors this season. On Friday night in a game against Chiawana High School from Washington State, three players for Camas had their helmet sensors alert the sidelines of a potentially dangerous hit in the first quarter. All three players were checked out and cleared to continue. Only 18 varsity players for Camas are wearing helmets with the sensors, and those players are in positions that see the most hits that have concussion potential.
The other problem is for schools that are struggling financially. The higher rated helmets can cost between $150 and $250. There are high school football programs suffering from lower budgets and are unable to afford to pull lower rated helmets and replace them with higher rated helmets for player safety. The sensor system is another cost that lower-income schools, at this time, can not justify to their budgets. However, with all the changes to equipment, once again, safety of players this fall football season will be the forefront of researchers, trainers, parents and coaches nationwide.
By Carl Auer