I-Team 8 story prompts IHSAA policy change

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An I-Team 8 investigation is prompting Indiana to take the lead as one of few states in the country that will soon track concussions in children who play sports. It’s a big change.

When I-Team 8 asked schools in May what football helmets their students wore and how many concussions they’d tracked that year, many people were surprised that a number of schools refused to respond. I-Team 8 took it to state officials.

I-Team 8 also spoke to the youth players.

“It’s pretty heavy on my head. I’m a small guy and it weighs me down a lot,” one 12-year-old football player from Fishers said about his helmet.

High school players like Donovan of Noblesville have asked the trainer to put more air in their helmets.

“I don’t want to get a headache,” Donovan said. “I don’t want a concussion.”

Kids know they are at risk for concussion. So do coaches.

But with a lack of response from Central Indiana schools on how many concussions their student-athletes had suffered, I-Team 8 took the issue to State Sen. Jim Merritt. He wrote the Indiana High School Athletic Association asking for immediate help. I-Team 8 got action. The athletic association reacted quickly and is working on a system to have every school report the number of concussions and their severity in all sports. Reporting will begin in August.

But what about the helmets themselves? NOCSAE, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, has talked for 20 years about drafting a youth football helmet standard.

What’s taking so long?

“We noticed the helmets just didn’t fit and in some of the crashes the helmets would even come off,” said Dr. Steve Olvey, a neurosurgeon who has spent decades working on IndyCar safety. He now works with young go-kart racers.

Olvey said it took him just a year and a half to develop a youth helmet standard for kids in motor sports in 2006. When I-Team 8 asked why there isn’t also a youth helmet standard in football Olvey said, “I can’t answer that. I can’t answer that. It’s beyond me,” adding there “absolutely” should be.

The racing industry is years ahead of football by already having a youth helmet standard.

Zach Pretorius is 11 and races with his 9-year-old brother. The brothers have been driving go-karts up to 150 mph since they were 5.

“I know dad has put a lot of time and effort into making sure I have the right helmet,” Zach said.

Olvey measured and weighed the heads of kids and researched every dimension of their faces.

“What we found is the length of the child’s head compared to the length of the neck is very different than an adult,” he said. “The skull is not as formed as an adult — it’s softer.”

Still, NOCSAE told I-Team 8 the lack of data is part of the reason they still don’t have a youth football standard.

“It’s not that difficult and most of the work has already been done,” Olvey said.

There may be a youth football helmet standard soon. Since I-Team 8’s report in May, Snell Memorial Foundation — which certifies helmets for racing and motorcycles — is now working to develop a standard for youth football helmets.

Until it’s sorted out off the field, some youth leagues like Fishers-Hamilton Southeastern Youth Football are being pro-active on the field. They’re one of the first youth leagues to hire an athletic trainer for third-sixth grades.

“When we look at how we can spend our money and not have a lot of money in our budget, we felt like that was a pretty high priority,” said Joe Hammond, president of Fishers-HSE Youth Football.

A Snell youth football standard may be completed within a year or two.


Until then, here’s what parents can do.

Look for a certification sticker on helmets.
Look for a certification sticker on helmets.
  1. Ask the school the make and model of the helmet. Research the model.
  2. Inspect the helmet for damage. Does the helmet have cracks?
  3. Look for certification. Most helmets are certified every few years and the date can be found inside the helmet. (An example of the sticker is to the right.)
  4. Check the age of the helmet. NOCSAE says helmets shouldn’t be more than 10 years old.

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