High school football players know the game comes with risks, and taking hard hits is just part of the deal.
One man on a mission to make football safer is Dr. Stefan Duma of Virginia Tech. In particular, he is looking at ways to reduce the risks of concussions.
“We started in 2003 by outfitting the Virginia Tech football players with accelerometers called ‘The Hit System,’ licensed by Riddell,” Duma said. “So we just finished 11 years of collecting data with our football players.”
His research has spawned a rating system that reveals that all football helmets are not created equal. He tests helmets to see how they handle impact, and then he rates them.
“So in order to get a 5-star [rating], you have to perform well at the low, medium and high levels,” he said. “We showed that if you switch from a 1-star to a 4-star, you lessen your chances of a concussion by 50 percent.”
The history of football helmets hangs on the wall inside their research laboratory in Blacksburg. Some of the outdated designs are still in use today.
“You are seeing some high schools with these 1- and 2-star helmets, and in this day and age we shouldn’t be seeing that,” he said.
WNCN wanted to see what helmets area football teams were wearing and filed public records requests with area middle and high school programs.
What WNCN found is eye-opening.
In Edgecombe, Franklin and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school districts, their teams use a combination of 3-, 4- and 5-star rated helmets.
In Granville County, they also use 3, 4 and 5-star helmets. But the district has 60 Schutt Air Advantage helmets in its inventory, which under Duma’s system only received 2 stars.
Stan Winborne, spokesman for Granville County schools, said only seven students are using the Schutt Air Advantage helmet this season. But the district has ordered 12 new ones this season and as soon as they arrive it will rotate those helmets out.
At Knightdale High School in Wake County, there are 22 Adams A-2000 pro elite helmets listed in their inventory. This helmet is on the not recommended list and the Knightdale head coach Cedric Dargan said he was shocked to hear the rating.
Fuquay-Varina High and Enloe High have 27 of the 2-star Schutt Air Advantage helmets being used by their teams.
Deran Coe, senior administrator for athletics for the Wake County Public School System, said all the helmets being used are safe according to the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment standard on equipment.
“All helmets used by WCPSS football teams meet the standards set by the National Operations Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Schools work with NOCSAE authorized reconditioners/recertifiers to assure that any helmets which do not meet the standards are permanently removed from use,” wrote Coe in an email sent to WNCN.
NOCSAE has its own tests, and believes its standards will keep your child safe. NOCSAE said the 5-star system used by Virginia Tech is a theoretical method designed to compare one helmet against another. WNCN Investigates spoke to Mike Oliver from NOCSAE who poined to a link on the NOCSAE website.
But Tech’s Duma said, “The primary difference is NOCSAE has a pass/fail standard.” So some helmets are below the standard and some are far below.
A surprising fact is that the 5-star helmets are not necessarily the most expensive. They can range from $199 to $380.
Even the most expensive and highest-rated helmet is not concussion proof. And tragedies happen.
In 2008, 15-year-old linebacker Matthew Gfeller died after taking a blow during a high school football game in Winston-Salem. Gfeller suffered severe bleeding to the brain and died two days later after being taken off life support.
Bob Gfeller, whose son was wearing a helmet that was not recommended, has advice for parents with sons playing football.
“If I want to go buy a car, I go to ‘Consumer Reports,’ and I’m looking at the rating of the car,” he said. “If I want to know my kid’s in a safe helmet, I’m going to the 5-star rating.”
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