July 09, 2014 - In an age where concussions are becoming more of a concern in contact sports, especially football, could the make and model of the helmet possibly reduce your child's risk on the field?
Oxford quarterback Glacier Wallington (right) knocked a Rochester Adams defender head over heels last year. (click for larger version)
Researchers at Virginia Tech seem to think so. Their research started 11 years ago when they put sensors in helmets from eight collegiate teams. The sensors analyzed head impact data for each impact players experienced, according to a Jan.31, 2014 Virginia Tech News article. The data collected from the sensors, allowed the researchers to recreate a lab test that matched the exposure of hits to those on the field.
The lab test included 120 impacts to each helmet dropping from different heights. The test is known as "The Star Rating System." According to their website, helmets rated as five-star are considered the "best available" at reducing risk of concussions, all the way down to "not recommended." Four-star are "very good." Three-star are "good." Two stars means adequate and one star is considered "marginal."
What's in Oxford High School's 2014 helmet inventory?
According to a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, Oxford has 109, "five-star" (Riddell Revolution Speed); three, "four-star" (Schutt ION 4D); eleven, "three-star" (Schutt Air XP and Schutt DNA Air Pro +); five, "two-star" (Schutt Air Advantage) and three, "not recommended" (Adams A2000 Pro Elite). Oxford also had two helmets whose model (Riddell Revolution Edge YTH) was not listed in the Virginia Tech study. Oxford was the only high school in Oakland County, according to a May 18, WDIV Channel 4 News investigation story that had a "not recommended" helmet in their stock.
Athletic Director's response
Athletic Director for Oxford High School Mike Watson said all of the district's helmets have recently been reconditioned and recertified by NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment)
"(NOCSAE) are the ones who have to certify football helmets, lacrosse helmets, baseball helmets, whatever kind of safety equipment that's out there," he said. "NOCSAE is kind of like the "UL" symbol of athletic equipment."
"Helmets which meet the NOCSAE standard are extremely effective at doing what they are designed to do; limiting linear accelerations that result from impacts to the head and helmet," said Mike Oliver, NOCSAE executive director in a May 27 press release "The STAR ratings are not standards. They are a theoretical method of comparing one helmet against another. Unfortunately, many have misunderstood the purpose and limitations of the STAR ratings.
"A 5 STAR rating does not mean that the helmet is great at preventing concussions. It simply means that it might be better than another helmet with a lower rating," Oliver continued. "Because of this misunderstanding, the effectiveness of helmets in protecting against concussions has become exaggerated, taking focus away from steps known to have a more immediate and much greater effect on concussion reduction."
NOCSAE also took issue that only "Large" size helmets were used in the study.
"It is possible that the same helmet models of different size may produce different results; however, we do not have any data on this, and we only tested large helmets as a first step. There are a near infinite number of ways to test helmets (varying temperature, impact location, helmet 5 size, drop height, etc…), and therefore we made generalizations so that the helmets could be tested in a practical manner," Virginia Tech stated on their website.
"No testing methodology is perfect, and given that this was the very first publicly available helmet data, it was a big first step. We will consider testing helmets of different sizes and other factors in the future."
As far as his personal thoughts on the study, Watson said it was "just one test of many."
"One study doesn't determine whether these helmets should be recommended or not," he added.
However, Watson did say that they are "putting new helmets on kids whenever possible" because they know "those are going to be the ones that are going to protect them better."
"We're parents, too, and we want to see our kids in helmets that fit right first of all and number two, are using the latest technology to help reduce concussions," he noted.
Watson said "fit" is one of the key components to reducing concussions.
"If you put any helmet on a kid that does not fit right, that has more potential to cause injuries," he said. "Obviously, helmets are protective equipment, but we're going to go on supporting initiatives by the state association and national federation of high schools to help us, and help schools who don't necessarily have the trained staff that we do, to instruct kids properly on fitting correctly and how to use the helmet."
He also believes people are becoming more "cognizant of what concussions are and how they affect the brain."
"They're actual injuries just like an orthopedic injury," he said.
Even though the "not-recommended" helmets were reconditioned and certified by NOCSAE, Watson said until they know more they'll "take those three helmets out of commission."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.