SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Concerns over head injuries are prompting parents, coaches and physicians to scrutinize helmet safety, particularly in football. As part of a company-wide investigation by Gannett, the parent owner of this station, Kathleen Shannon looked into how Maine measures up in terms of helmet safety.
Maine high schools, like those in all but two states around the country are bound by equipment regulations set by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Helmets can be no older than ten years and must be re-conditioned and re-certified once every two years if not annually.
"You need to make sure the straps are working," Steve Stinson, head football coach at South Portland High School and a member of the Executive Committee for the Maine Football Coaches Association, said. "That the inner pads or bladders - most helmets are gonna have 2-3 or 4 inflatable bladders inside the helmet - and those need to be changed continually with air and updated. And then the reconditioning at the end of the year is vital."
Stinson and other coaches also consider consumer safety ratings developed by a group at Virginia Tech that studies the biomechanics of injury. They designed a series of helmet impact tests for the adult helmets used by high schools, colleges and the NFL. the tests recreate the number of times players are hit on the field, from what direction and how hard.
Helmets are drop tested 120 times at different heights and from different directions to determine how much impact each helmet model absorbs. They then give it a rating, or prediction of how likely a player is to get a concussion while wearing that helmet.
"So we took ten years and millions of data points, brought it in the lab and recreated test energy levels to see what players see on the field," Dr. Stephan Duma said, who heads up the studies.
Each model is assigned a rating ranging from "Not Recommended" to five stars.
"We've upgraded in the past 5 years from a real hodgepode of helmets that kind of came in over the years 10 of these 10 of those to a complete set of 60 Ridell Revo helmets which rate very high on that Virginia Tech rating," Stinson said. "I think they are a 4 or 5."
Stinson said you'd be hard pressed to find anything less than a 4 star helmet being used on fields across Maine, even though in a rural state many districts struggle to find the funds. A new helmet can run $250-$300 and the mandated annual re-conditioning can cost each school between $2,000 and $5,000.
"You may see teams with smaller budget struggle with other things - they may because of the money spent on helmets the shoulder pads might not be as good or the thigh pads or practice pants - stuff like that. But that stuff is down on the priority list after helmets," Stinson said.
He and Dr. Stephan Dumas encourage parents to call coaches and Athletic directors who can give them specifics about the helmet their child is wearing.
For more information on National Federation of State High School Associations rules and regulations click here.
For more information on the Virginia Tech ratings system click here.