CHARLESTON, SC – With high school football kicking off Thursday in the Lowcountry with the 45th Annual Sertoma Classic, the News 2 I-Team is following up on an investigation that forced change one year ago.
Some of the players on the field at Sertoma may be wearing helmets that some researchers say, they really should not be wearing because they do not offer the same protection as newer, more advanced helmets.
“The difference between the low performing helmets, and the high performing helmets,” said Dr. Stefan Duma at Virginia Tech.
Duma and his team buy, and test every helmet on the market and give them a Star rating based on their ability to protect a player from the impacts that occur on a football field. The ratings go from zero (not recommended) to five stars, which is the best available.
News 2’s investigation prompted Berkeley County to replace dozens of the 1-star rated Riddell VSR-4 helmets last year. Duma said, using those helmets increased the risk of concussion by at least 50%, compared to a five star helmet.
“What we tell people is, if you’re in the bottom helmets, the not recommended, the 1-star, or 2-star, then move into the four and five star,” Duma added.
That same investigation found Charleston and Berkeley County schools still have the 2-star Schutt Air Advantage helmets in use. The I-Team went back to the districts to find out what they have planned for the helmets, that the company stopped making five years ago.Although the helmet is no longer sold, it is still certified and meets all of the safety standards set forth by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).
Berkeley County’s Director of Athletics, Charlie Davis says he is going to “reassess the use of that helmet at Stratford High School, which is the only school in BCSD with those on the shelf”.
Charleston County School District’s David Spurlock says the Air Advantage is being phased out at the handful of school that still have some in play. Those schools include: Wando, St. Johns, North Charleston, and Stall.
“It is a safe helmet, by all indications, but it’s not the safest,” said Spurlock. “Each school has to address the helmet inventory based on their ability to buy new helmets each year.”
Spurlock did not close the door on the possibility of the school district picking up the tab to replace those 2-star Schutt helmets, but said that would be a conversation he would have to have with district officials.
“I certainly believe that CCSD is going to do everything that it possibly can to keep our kids as safe as we possibly can keep them,” said Spurlock.
Schutt responded to our request for comment on the use of the Air Advantage, and Duma’s suggestion that schools transition out of using it:
“It’s a bit unrealistic to expect an older helmet design, like the AiR Advantage (first introduced in the late 1990s), which features a traditional, small helmet standoff, to perform at the same level as modern helmet designs with large standoff designs. You’ll notice the only other small standoff helmet in the STAR system (the Riddell VSR-4) was given a 1-star rating, as well. When it was introduced, the AiR Advantage was one of the most popular helmets in football and our most popular model in the NFL. It offered more customization options for fitting then any other helmet prior to that. And it was the lightest helmet on the field. Those are big performance advantages. Any AiR Advantages still being used currently – if they’ve been properly maintained, reconditioned and re-certified – will perform as well as the day they left our facilities. All of our helmets, both new and reconditioned, pass all NOCSAE helmet standards. As far as VA Tech researchers recommending schools/teams transition out of the AiR Advantage to higher rated helmets, we have no issue with that as there’s no doubt that the new helmet designs absorb more impact than older designs. But – that doesn’t mean the older helmets – if they’ve been properly maintained, reconditioned and re-certified – perform any worse than when they originally passed the NOCSAE test.” – Glenn Beckman, Director of Communications, Schutt