WTOL 11 Investigates: How safe are the helmets area football players are wearing?

TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) - Football is a collision sport, and one that's very popular in high schools across America.

By now, you're probably well aware one of the most severe injuries athletes can face is a concussion. Because hits to the head can never be 100 percent avoidable on the gridiron, experts say the protective gear football players wear on their heads can make all the difference in preventing injury.

In fact, researchers at Virginia Tech University have gone as far as to test every helmet on the market and give it a star rating:

5 Stars is Best Available

4 Stars is Very Good

3 Stars is Good

2 Stars is Adequate

1 Star is Marginal

There's also a "Not Recommended Category"

To come up with the ratings, Professor Stefan Duma in Virginia Tech's Biomedical Engineering Department tests each helmet model 120 times at a range of energy levels to see how they hold up.

Professor Duma says the helmets with a higher rating, make all the difference.

"Moving from a 1 star helmet to a 5 star helmet, reduces your risk by over 50%," said Duma.

There are nine 5 star helmets on the market right now. Duma recommends helmets 2 stars and lower should get tossed.

We wanted to see how the helmets on the fields of schools in Lucas and Wood Counties stack up when it comes to safety.

In a months-long investigation, we found your student athlete may not be as protected as you'd like.

Fortunately, we found most school districts are primarily using helmets which earned 4 or 5 star-ratings on the Virginia Tech tests.

Perrysburg High School Athletic Director Ray Pohlman keeps track of about 100 football players. The helmets the school is using range from 4 stars, down to 2, with the majority a 4 star.

Pohlman says he relies on sports salesmen to tell him what's best on the market.

"We'll purchase 9-12 helmets every year, so the new ones we purchase are the newest ones out there," said Pohlman.

According to manufacturers like Riddell and Schutt, helmets are good for 10 years and need to be reconditioned regularly. We found many schools in Lucas and Wood Counties recondition helmets every year, including Perrysburg.

"They're going through with a fine-tooth and making sure 'yeah, this helmet's ready for play. Let's polish it up, clean it up and send it back, or this helmet's rejected,'" said Pohlman.

The same is true at Bowsher High School in Toledo. Head coach Craig Lubinski sends all active helmets out every year for reconditioning. The school is using 3 and 4 star-rated helmets.

"It's all about the kids' safety, so we want to make sure we get the best helmet on to our kids," said Lubinski.

This year, Lubinski bought six, 4-star helmets to replace six that were rejected in reconditioning.

Not all Toledo High Schools are using the highest rated helmets though. Scott high school is using mostly 2 star helmets and also has about a dozen 1 star helmets and a few helmets that are "not recommended."

We reached out to the district and were told even though those 1 star and "not recommended" helmets were sent for reconditioning, they're not being used.

While Rogers has mainly 3, 4 and 5 star helmets, there's also a handful of "not recommended" and 2 star helmets in their inventory.

Administration says they're doing everything to protect their players. They say even 2 star helmets are safe enough for play.

"We're very confident. We ensure that the helmets are approved by the Ohio Athletic Association and each and every student is protected in that way," says Toledo Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Brian Murphy.

Some parents are taking matters into their own hands. Perrysburg allows them to buy their own helmets,that the school will recondition every year.

"Maybe it was to make us feel better. I'm not wearing the helmet, I don't know if it feels better, fits better, but we certainly felt better about it," said Paul Vzral.

Other parents say they trust the district to provide quality helmets.

"I don't think the school could send them out if they weren't safe. I think through the Ohio Athletic Association and the powers that be, they have to be safe," said Perrysburg parent Heidi Thomas.

"It would be something where I'd say, 'can we get everyone the 4 star helmet?'" asked Perrysburg parent, Christine Best.

TPS administration adds, as they purchase new helmets every year, they'll be sure to purchase those with 4 and 5 stars.

After months of requesting the information from school districts, we only received a partial list of helmets used at Woodward High School.

We also didn't hear back from McComb or Fostoria.

To see a list of the types of helmets being used in your school, click here.

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