Study: Some High School Football Teams Use Inadequate Helmets

There are new concerns over the football helmets some local high school players are wearing after university research suggested certain helmets put children at a higher risk for a concussion.

For over a month, the NBC10 investigators asked 271 high schools and school districts for their football helmet inventory. Only 76 schools responded to the request.

Our findings revealed some local schools owned a type of helmet referred to in a Virginia Tech study as “marginal” for preventing concussions.

Dr. Stefan Duma, the head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics and his team of researchers conducted a “drop test” on 26 different helmet models.

“We take each helmet and we put it on a head and we drop it,” Duma said.

Duma and his team then gave each helmet a rating, five stars being the best and one star being the worst.

“When you take a one-star and you compare it to a four or five-star it cuts your risk of concussion by 50 percent,” Duma said.

According to the study, the Riddell VSR-4 helmet was the only type of helmet to get a one-star rating. Duma deemed it “marginal” in helping to prevent concussions and had a message for schools that are still using the VSR4.

“I think you’ve got to get rid of them,” he said.

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Eight high schools that responded to the NBC10 Investigators’ request have the VSR-4 in their inventory.

Upper Darby – 78 (out of 175 total helmets)
Parkland High School – 12
West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional – 6 (confirmed two helmets are in use)
Millville School District – 8
Pittsgrove Township School District – 1
Burlington School District – 12
Maple Shade School District – 12
Polytech School District - 3

“This year I can tell you in just keeping track of this, we had no students who received concussions in wearing that one star helmet,” said Upper Darby Superintendent Richard Dunlap.

Dunlap also told NBC10 that not all the VSR-4 helmets are being used but couldn’t say how many were making their way onto the field.

The investigators also found two dozen VSR-4 helmets at Orefield Middle School in Allentown. Jeff Geisle, the athletic director of Orefield, told NBC10 the National Operating Committee of Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) certified the helmets. All other schools who responded to the request said the same.

“If the helmet was reconditioned by a NOCSAE certified re-conditioner and they said, ‘hey, it meets all NOCSAE requirements,’ I would have my child in that helmet,” Geisle said.

NOCSAE Executive Director Mike Oliver told NBC10 Virginia Tech’s research is good in theory but should not be the only research parents and schools look at. Oliver referenced a University of Wisconsin study that inspected reports of concussions in high schools which did not find any connection between concussions and the model or age of football helmets in high school players.

“We know that things that cause a concussion in most cases are not related to the helmet performances,” Oliver said. “They’re related to other circumstances and other variables [[including]] health of the player, prior injury history, how well the helmet fits and how they’re using their head.”
Oliver also told NBC10 the reconditioning process helmets go through each year is rigorous.

“It is completely disassembled,” Oliver said. “All the pads are taken out. The facemask is removed and the helmet is examined for cracks, splits and other things that might disqualify it from being used.”

Duma doesn’t believe re-conditioning and re-certifying makes a difference when it comes to one-star helmets however. 

“From my point of view it doesn’t do anything,” Duma said. “An old design, if it’s cleaned up, is still an old design. It doesn’t make it better. It doesn’t move it into a five-star category. It’s still a one-star performer.”

The Upper Darby School District told NBC10 they will keep the VSR-4 helmets for next season as they continue to transition to higher rated helmets.

“They’re still in our inventory because they qualify to be used under the NOCSAE standard,” Dunlap said. “If NOCSAE was to come out and say as the governing agency that certifies those helmets, that you should not use this helmet, then we would not use the helmet.”

Verdell stopped selling the VSR helmet in 2011. As we mentioned before, many schools did not respond to our request. If you want to know which helmet your child is wearing, ask your school district, school or your child’s football coach. You can also use the interactive map embedded in the middle of the article.

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