Heads up: Area coaches react to helmet study

By Jeremy Moorhouse

July 17, 2014

No football helmet is concussion proof.

It’s a message that came across loud and clear after the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) released study findings that examined whether the rate of sport-related concussion was affected by the protective equipment worn by high school football players.

The results of the University of Wisconsin study, which showed no difference in the rate of concussions or severity of concussions by helmet brand, didn’t come as a surprise to area football coaches or athletic directors.

“There is not a helmet manufactured at this time that prevents a concussion,” Mount Airy athletic director and offensive line coach Donald Price said. “If anybody tells you they prevent concussions they are misleading you.”

According to the release, for concussion protection to be truly effective, actions must be taken on and off the field by student athletes, parents and coaches.

Proper equipment fitting and coaches teaching correct blocking and tackling techniques are big steps toward preventing traumatic brain injuries.

“The most important thing with a helmet is proper fit,” East Surry athletic director and defensive coordinator Randy Marion said. “You may have best helmet out there in the world, but if it doesn’t fit properly, it’s no better than a cheap helmet.”

A well maintained and fitted football helmet can help reduce the risk of skull fracture and intracranial hemorrhage, but doubts remain as to whether a helmet can ever be designed to prevent concussions, the release noted.

“We drill not attacking with the face mask, and not attacking with the crown of the helmet,” Price said. “We preach that.”

Concussions safety is a major issue at the college and pro football level.

Last week, the NCAA released new guidelines for concussion safety, which included limiting live contact football practices to two per week during the season. Also last week, a federal judge granted preliminary approval to a deal that would compensate thousands of former NFL players for concussion-related claims.

In efforts to reduce contact above the shoulders and minimize the risk of injury in prep football, the National Federation of State High School Associations Football Rules Committee came up with a definition for “targeting,” which will be penalized beginning this season.

By definition, “targeting” is taking aim with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulders to initiate contact above the shoulders, which goes beyond making a legal tackle, a legal block, or playing the ball.

Prep football teams are allowed to hold their first official practice Aug. 1.

“As coaches we’ve become more cognizant of the way kids are supposed to tackle,” Surry Central head football coach Monty Southern said. “We’ve always preached head up, see what you hit. Everything is the shoulder pad. Slide the face mask to one side of the shoulder pad. Keep your head out of the tackle.”

In mid-June, Winston-Salem and Forsyth County football coaches, athletic directors and certified athletic trainers met at Reagan High School for the Heads Up Football safety program. The program was sponsored by the Matthew Gfeller Foundation. Gfeller, who played football at RJ Reynolds, died as the result of a brain injury caused by a helmet-to-helmet collision in 2008.

The Heads Up program focuses on safe tackling techniques, wearing proper-hitting equipment, protecting players from concussions, and dealing with heat and ensuring good hydration.

“My biggest point is teaching proper technique, proper blocking and tackling, and hitting technique,” North Surry head football coach Danny Lyons said. “It’s all about taking the head out of football. It’s all about having the head in the right place.”

Mike Oliver, executive director of NOCSAE warned of placing too much value in the STAR rating system, which was compiled by Virginia Tech researchers to evaluate safety of helmets. Based on this system, helmets with more stars provide a reduction in concussion risk.

Consumers can view the most up-to-date helmet ratings at

However, there’s no substitute for concussion education and awareness at among players, parents and students. The helmet itself is the last line of defense.

“The last thing you want to have is have a child who is severely injured based on equipment,” Price said. “Football is inherently a violent sport. It’s not dangerous, but violent. It is a collision sport.”

When discussing how many sustained football concussions were reported in the past few years at Mount Airy, North Surry, East Surry and Surry Central — the range was anywhere from one to three per year.

“As long as we are telling kids to run into each other, there’s always going to be a risk of concussions,” Southern said.