Local schools slowly phasing in safer football helmets

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by WHITNEY WARD & KREM.com

KREM.com

Posted on September 3, 2014 at 7:31 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 3 at 8:07 PM

SPOKANE, Wash.  --  Ahead of football season, Two On Your Side investigated the effectiveness of high school football helmets.

KREM 2 News started checking in with Spokane's school six months ago. Since 2011, Virginia Tech University has graded how well helmets protect football players from brain injuries.

According to Virginia Tech officials, a helmet with a 5-star rating is deemed the safest.

A Two On Your Side public records request found Kootenai High School uses a combination of 2 & 4 star helmets.

RATING CHART: Football helmet safety (April 2014)

Head coach Doug Napierala said he decided to switch to 5-star helmets for the new school year.

"I appreciate that the companies are putting the effort into putting out a better product and keeping this sport as safe as we can keep it," Napierala told KREM 2 News.

Two On Your Side pulled documents from more than a hundred school districts in the Spokane area and found 49 districts use 5-star models.

According to public records, those school districts included Mead, East Valley, Lind, Ritzville, Sprague, Potlatch, and Soap Lake.

KREM 2 News also found many districts also use 1 and 2 star helmets, including Clarkston, Medical Lake, and Pullman.

Most alarming, Two On Your Side found two districts, Spokane and Wahluke, have helmets that are explicitly rated as "not recommended" by Virginia Tech.

Both districts told KREM 2 News the helmets were purchased years ago and are now being phased out completely.

According to public records, most districts also use a combination of helmet brands and models, including Spokane and Wahluke.

Educators said it is also important to note that every helmet used is required to pass the so-called NOCSAE standard for reconditioning.

School districts said they placed the bulk of their confidence in the NOCSAE standards.

"The 5-star rating from Virginia Tech is not the national standard. It's an independent study," said Herb Rotchford, Greater Spokane League. "The national standard is the NOCSAE standard, and every helmet in our inventory has a NOCSAE certification."

Rotchford oversees every school and sport in the Greater Spokane League.

He told KREM 2 News the Virginia Tech 5-star system is becoming a factor in purchasing decisions, but it is not the only factor.

According to Rotchford, all Spokane helmets are reconditioned every year.  He said all new helmets have either four or five stars.

"You just want to make sure you're very careful and very diligent about paying attention to that kind of thing," said Rotchford. 

KREM 2 News learned districts have also made changes in the way they teach football in general.

"It's gotta start with the younger kids and the education of concussions and education on how to tackle and education on contact," said Napierala.

Coaches like Napierala said the 5-star rating system is just one more piece of information they use when it comes to helmets.

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