Northwest High School Replaces 100 1-Star Football Helmets After NBC 5 Investigation

School replaces helmets to give parents extra piece of mind

Links: NBC 5 Investigates Helmet TrackerVirginia Tech Safety Study

Northwest High School is replacing 100 helmets after an NBC 5 investigation revealed some freshman and junior varsity players were wearing older helmets that received a 1-star “marginal” rating in a Virginia Tech study.

According to Susan Elza, executive director of athletics at Northwest Independent School District, the low-rated helmets will no longer be used and will be replaced this week.

The helmets received a low rating in a study conducted by researchers comparing helmet models to see which ones were best at reducing the chance of a concussion. The Virginia Tech study found concussion risk can be cut in half by replacing a 1-star helmet and wearing a 4-star model instead.

“If your kid is wearing a 1-star helmet you should be very involved with the school to get rid of those helmets,” said Dr. Stefan Duma, a concussion expert at Virginia Tech.

When NBC 5 Investigates brought that research to the attention of the Northwest ISD last week, they immediately took action and decided to remove 1-star helmets that weren’t scheduled for retirement until next year.

“For us, we were just proactive. We accelerated a process that was going to happen anyways. We felt like it was the best thing to do,” said Elza.

Replacing the helmets will cost the district about $30,000, but it’s a price tag they’re willing to pay to give parents extra piece of mind.

Northwest High School is one of nine schools that NBC 5 Investigates identified as having 1-star rated helmets.

NBC 5 Investigates obtained helmet records from hundreds of schools at 45 school districts.  Since the report aired, the Fort Worth Independent School District got rid of its last 1-star helmets. Denton Ryan High School confirmed players are no longer wearing them and Lewisville High School also recently decided to replace them.

But in Garland, 50 players are still wearing 1-star models and the district has no immediate plans to change.

When asked if out of an abundance of caution they should move to a better-rated helmet, Odenwald said, “I don't think so, because we've done everything we could do.”

Garland officials explained those helmets still meet the standards of NOCSAE -- The National Committee that certifies athletic equipment and the group Garland has looked to for years to tell them if a helmet is safe.

The Virginia Tech research has now created confusion.

“The ratings for the Virginia tech research is good, but what's more important to us is the conditioning company that looks at our helmets that reconditions our helmets to test them to make sure that they're safe for our students because we'll never compromise safety with a student,” said Odenwald.

Even at Northwest ISD, they still think the old helmets were OK, but they didn’t want parents to have any doubts.

“We've gotten some positive comments from parents that, you know, ‘Thank you for doing this. Thank you for keeping our kids safe.’  But I’ll go back to it again, we really thought they were safe in the first place,” said Elza.

Parents should know that every new adult helmet sold today is is 4- or 5-star rated. Youth helmets weren’t rated as part of the Virginia Tech study. But even a 5-star helmet can’t prevent all concussions.

Using records obtained from school districts, NBC5 Investigates created an online helmet tracker to give parents and players information about the helmets local schools are using.  Since our initial report more districts have provided updated information to add to the database including the independent school districts in McKinney, Grand Prairie and Southlake-Carroll.

NBC 5 Investigates Helmet Tracker

To see which helmets are in use at which schools, use the map below to select a school and see which helmets are in their inventory. The inventory will also display the helmet’s rating.

About the Virginia Tech Football Helmet Rating System

Since 2011, researchers at Virginia Tech tested a total of 23 adult football helmet models. Each helmet was evaluated using a star evaluation system included in the the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings™. Click here to read the entire study. Please note, youth helmets were not included in this study.

A note from Virginia Tech: Any player in any sport can sustain a head injury with even the very best head protection. This analysis is based on data trends and probabilities, and therefore a specific person's risk may vary. This variation is likely dominated by genetic differences, health history, and impact factors such as muscle activation.

About NBC5 Investigates Helmet Tracker: NBC 5 Investigates filed open records requests with 45 school districts in the Dallas/Fort Worth area asking for their helmet inventory at more than 350 high schools and middle schools that have football programs. Records were collected from August 5, 2014 to September 3, 2014 and complied to make a searchable database. This database will be updated as additional school districts continue to respond with information. Please note, most middle schools use a youth size helmet and youth helmets were not included in the Virginia Tech study. Therefore any youth sized helmet reported by a middle school will be marked with an N/A rating in our database. Also, if a school district did not provide enough detailed information for us to verify the make and model of the helmet we also marked it with an N/A rating. Some schools may not use every helmet in their inventory so if you have specific questions concerning whether a specific helmet make and model is actually in use at a certain school, it’s best to ask the school for more information. If you see information that you believe needs to be updated, please email Investigative producer, Eva Parks at eva.parks@nbcuni.com.

To see our NBC 5 Investigates Helmet Tracker from our smartphone app, click here.

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