ARKANSAS -- Football is a favorite past-time for many Arkansans, but it's also a fairly violent sport which can be dangerous. For the players, there are risks, specifically for young players. Many studies show high school football is the sport with the highest concussion rate.
It's been nearly five years since Timothy Robinson last played football. He can barely speak and is confined to a wheel chair. His mom is now his primary caregiver.
"There are times I cry a lot and you know what else can I do?" Evelyn McGhee says.
During a game, the 18-year-old Alabama high school student suffered a traumatic brain injury after a simple tackle. His family later sued the helmet maker. The company settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount of money.
That is why she hopes parents will pay close attention to a study conducted by Virginia Tech University. Researchers tested various makes and models of football helmets 120 times, at different heights and different directions. "Nobody should take it lightly that it is not going to happen to them. I didn't ask the questions and I knew better," explains McGhee.
The amount of impact absorbed by each helmet was measured, which led to a five star scale. The stars are based on the probability for a concussion. The lower ranked helmets: not recommended, and one and two star helmets show the highest risk for a concussion.
The NFL confirms they've posted the star ratings in every NFL locker room in the country.
Dr. Stefan Duma at Virginia Tech published the first set of ratings three years ago. He says, "When you look at the difference between the one and five star helmets, it's so dramatic."
We wanted to know how high schools in our area measure up to the five star rankings. THV 11 sent open records requests to 27 high schools in central Arkansas asking for the makes and models of helmets being used.
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After spending several weeks reviewing the documents, THV 11 found the majority of the high schools have 3, 4 and 5 star helmets, including those in the Pulaski County Special School District.
Athletic Director Danny Ebbs says, "We are always looking to make things better. You don't have to be sick to get better and we are always looking for ways to improve the performance and the safety of our athletes."
North Little Rock High School is the biggest concern, according to Duma. Fifteen of their helmets rank as two stars or "adequate." Three other helmets rank as a one star or "marginal." Ebbs was not aware of Virginia Tech's ranking system until we told him. Even though his district's helmets rank well, he now plans to strongly consider the system for future helmet purchases.
Duma says, "We are big advocates for schools getting rid of their old bad helmets and getting newer, better helmets and I've never met any expert that has disagreed with me on that point."
We took the study to North Little Rock School District's Athletic Director Gary Davis. "We were unaware of this study, but it did bring to light some concerns," he admitted.
As for getting rid of the lower ranking helmets before the next season, Davis wants to do more research but says there's a strong chance.
"We definitely want to be on the safe side, so we will do all we can to make sure our students and our student athletes are best equipped."
But Dave Halstead with the National Operating Committee for Standards in Athletic Equipment (NOCSEA) disagrees with the Virginia Tech study. Their tests of high school helmets have been around since 1973.
"I believe there is a serious disconnect between the star rating system and what mothers are trying to prevent, which is a concussion," says Halstead. "The star rating system doesn't have the support to be able to do that. The problem is they're all linear acceleration measures and they're not really related to concussion."
The NOCSEA standards say high school helmets must be certified annually and reconditioned every other year. NOCSEA doesn't use a star system, but rather a pass-fail system. Either the helmet provides good enough protection or it doesn't. If you meet the NOCSEA standards, the helmet is good for use.
Halstead says, "Where I find that there's a problem is where they [Virginia Tech] say -- this is a 5-star rating and will result in fewer concussions than this helmet that's a four star. There is zero science to support that. And it's a leap of faith that I think is premature."
As for Tim Robinson, his helmet was rated as a 2 star by Virginia Tech, falling in the "adequate" category.
McGhee says, "I think every parent should be looking into what type of helmet their child is wearing."
By sharing their story, she hopes more concussions and traumatic injuries will be prevented. "Bring it to the forefront. Make it so important that you realize, hey this is my child."
As for the cost, you may be wondering if the higher ranking helmets are more expensive. Our Gannett Company found there are four star helmets that are less expensive than the lower ranking helmets.
Questions Parents Should Ask:
1. What is the star rating for my child's helmet? To use the 5 star ratings by Virginia Tech, you'll need to know the make and model of the helmet.
2. How old is my child's helmet? No helmet older than 10 years should be on a high school football field. That's the law.
3. How often does my child's school re-condition the helmets in the inventory? Most schools try to do it once a year or every other year. But it's important to know because damaged helmets don't always provide the same protection.