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HIGH SCHOOLS | HELMETS

Making Headway Against Injuries

September 06, 2002|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Warren Anderson always seemed to come away from the first few days of football practice with a headache. He thought it was a natural reaction as he adjusted to the contact each season.

Until this summer.

In two weeks on the Ventura St. Bonaventure High practice field, Anderson hasn't heard ringing in his ears, an improvement he attributes to his "Revolution"--a newly designed helmet by Riddell, the nation's largest manufacturer of adult football helmets.

"I'm definitely sold on it," said Anderson, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end. "I would never go back to the old ones as long as these are around."

About two ounces lighter than a traditional helmet, but with an extended lower portion, called the mandible, that protects the jaw, the Revolution has drawn largely rave reviews from local players and coaches.

Thad Ide, vice president of research and product development for Riddell, said the Revolution's shell represents the first major structural change in helmet design in more than 25 years--since air-fit systems were introduced in the 1970s.

Four years in the making, it was designed with the goal of reducing concussions. It is conservatively estimated that football is responsible for nearly 100,000 concussions a year, from youth to professional levels. Ide said it's hoped the new helmet may be able to reduce concussions by 30%.

"It's priceless if it can reduce [concussions] by 30%," said St. Bonaventure Coach Jon Mack, whose program bought 20 of the new helmets. "We [initially] bought 15 standard and 14 Revolutions, and the way they've taken off I can see us ordering strictly Revolutions in the future. I figured the worst thing is that I'd have 14 helmets on the shelf, [but] our guys liked them so much we picked up another six."

St. Bonaventure, Moorpark, Lakewood, Westlake Village Westlake and West Covina South Hills are among area schools that purchased at least 18 of the new helmets, according to Riddell. Schools typically replace 20% to 25% of their helmets each year.

In a study partially funded by NFL Charities that began in 1997, scientists at Biokinetics and Associates of Ottawa, Canada, analyzed concussive hits to the head in professional football games and attributed almost 70% to blows to the side, face or jaw area. That's where Riddell concentrated its redesign.

Riddell made the helmet wider to accommodate energy-absorbing padding to the side of the head and extended the shell down the jaw line to provide added protection for side-impact blows.

"Traditional helmets don't offer a lot of protection to the side of the face, and foam lining that did extend to the face area was more for fitting purposes," Ide said.

To retain proportion with a wider helmet, Riddell made the shell about a quarter-inch bigger all the way around. There is increased open area around the eyes for greater peripheral vision, and with six elliptical top vents, the helmet is lighter than the standard model even though it's made of the same material and protects more of the head. The mandible also curves around the head's anatomical center of gravity--about an inch above the ear line--to make it less strenuous to wear.

The cost of a Revolution on Riddell's Web site is $159.99, which is $57 more than a standard model. About 25% of football-playing high schools in the U.S. have purchased Revolutions, and Riddell expects that total to double next year.

Cody Holland, a Moorpark quarterback and free safety who has worn another brand of helmet since he was 10, let curiosity get the better of him when he tried on a Revolution at the beginning of summer practice.

"It changed my whole perspective," he said. "Having the protection around the head and jaw, and the lightness of it, and feeling more comfortable in it, I think it would be pretty difficult to go back."

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A New Helmet

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