BOISE - Optimist Youth Football says it has replaced hundreds of helmets after a KTVB report on football helmet ratings and concussions.
In original stories that aired in February, local high school coaches, trainers and sporting goods dealers talked about a Virginia Tech study that indicates certain football helmets may cut concussion risks.
The university performs tests on various professional grade helmets, which are used by high school, college, and professional level athletes.
Based on test results, the Virginia Tech scale is designed to identify differences in helmets that could reduce risk of concussion. The study is considered controversial; however, the NFL uses Virginia Tech's charts in its locker rooms.
Optimist Youth Football seeing slighty declining player numbers
Youth football helmets are not rated, but Optimist officials say the KTVB report and national coverage and interest in concussion research has had a lot of parents questioning the safety of the sport. The organization says its player numbers have dropped, likely as a result of concussion fears.
We think it's still a lot of fear about kids playing football and is it safe? Jerron Moore, Director of Coaching and Player Safety, Optimist Youth Football, said. A lot of questions about our youth helmets, how they compared, was there a ratings system for these youth helmets. So we decided to be very proactive and attack the problem head on.
Program replaces hundreds of older helmets
Moore says that attack plan was to individually inspect the more than 2,600 helmets in the program.
We found approximately 960 that were 9 years or older. They were still safe, they still met all the current safety standards, but we felt because of the visual, and your story quite frankly, that it was in our best interest to replace them. So we did, Moore said.
Replacing around 900 helmets was a $53,000 project, paid for by the Idaho Potato Bowl and other donors.
These are the best helmets money can buy, for youth, Moore said as he walked the equipment room.
More than helmets, Optimist focuses on coach training
In addition to gear replacement, other changes over the years in Optimist Youth Football include mandatory on-field helmet checks, strict 'return to play' guidelines if a kid gets a concussion and required safety training for coaches.
What I tell all of our coaches now is the day of us walking up to a dad and handing him a whistle and saying 'you're a football coach' don't exist anymore, Moore said.
For example, Optimist uses the Heads Up Football program through USA Football. Every coach goes through online and in-person safety training. This Saturday, player safety coaches will train at BSU with national USA Football master trainers.
The focus of that training is about how a helmet should fit, how shoulder pads should fit, the proper technique for hitting, the proper technique for getting hit and the proper way to run a practice, Moore said.
Optimist Youth Football: Added and existing safety measures make the sport as safe as possible
Even while expanding the training and safety measures, Optimist football has now had two years of declining player numbers.
Last year, for the first time in ten years, the program had a decline. Three percent fewer kids signed up, again because directors believe parents have fears related to concussions. Moore says the Optimist program works to make football as safe as the sport can be and has for years.
We are doing so much more now than we've ever done to make it safer, but we've got to get that message out to parents that concussions that are out there, they're going to happen. They can happen on a bike. They can do it on a skateboard. But we're doing everything humanly possible, Moore said.
Officials track local youth concussion numbers, Virginia Tech releases new ratings
Optimist Youth Football has a certified athletic trainer at all games and tracks concussions. Their numbers locally over the last five years show of around 4,500 kids playing each week, there are roughly three concussions each game day. Moore says his numbers indicate 2-to-3 percent of Optimist players end up with concussions each year.
Virginia Tech just released new football helmet ratings two weeks ago. Those ratings are for pro helmets that high schoolers and up use. All five new adult football helmets introduced this year earned top marks.
Sign-ups for the next season of Optimist Youth Football are going on now. Information about the program can be found by clicking here.