EXCLUSIVE: How Safe is Your Child's Football Helmet?

In just a few weeks, student-athletes from across western New York will be heading off to get ready for the 2014 high school football season.

But, before you send your child off for the August "two-a-days", a Buffalo neurosurgeon wants you to know something.

"There's no concussion-proof helmet. There are some helmets that are better than others but there's no concussion-proof helmet," says Dr. Elad Levy.

But some football helmets are better than others. Nobody knows that better than Virginia Tech's School of Biomedical Engineering. There, testing is done annually on every make and model of adult-sized football helmets available. (Youth football helmets will be included in future ratings.)

DATABASE: Scroll down to the bottom to search for your child's high school

"What separates football is that you have a lot more head impacts. So, the risk is the highest. Of all sports, your risk of head injury is the greatest," says Dr. Stefan Duma who heads the university's Biomedical Engineering school.

The annual testing measures the ability of a helmet to absorb force, or in scientific terms, acceleration.

Duma notes, "Acceleration is what effects the mass of the brain. The higher you accelerate it, the more the mass lags and that's when you stretch it and get injuries."

The growing national awareness of the danger of concussion has drawn more attention to the Virginia Tech helmet ratings. Parents, coaches and school systems through purchases of better rated helmets has seemingly prompted manufacturers to increase safety standards.

"When we did our first rating there was one 5-star helmet by Riddell," says Duma. "

According to Virginia Tech's rating system, 5-star helmets are "best available". A 4-star helmet is considered "very good". A 3-star is "good", where "adequate" is used to describe a 2-star helmet and 1-star models are labeled "marginal".

The worst category is "no rating" which is "not recommended. Only one model of helmet got this lowest rating from Virginia Tech, the Adams A2000 Pro Elite.

Using Virginia Tech's ratings as a guide, 2 On Your Side has spent weeks collecting information on the helmets available to football players across western New York for the coming 2014 season.

Click here to see the Ratings Database for WNY Schools

Sifting through our database WGRZ found the largest number of these "not recommended" helmets were at Albion Central School in Orleans County. According to information the school system gave us, the Albion football program had 86 of these lowest rated helmets.

But during a meeting with superintendent Michael Bonnewell last week to review what we had found, we learned he had done some research on his own. Bonnewell ran across the Virginia Tech data and immediately ordered all helmets with 2-stars and less to be discarded and replaced with 5-star models. The total number of helmets replaced: 99. The cost was close to $20,000.

Bonnewell says, "To save a student from injury, even one student from a concussion, $20,000 to protect a kid from a potential life-impacting injury? Well, worth it."


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