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ARLINGTON

Parents want school to toss ‘junk’ helmets

(Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/file 2009)
By Brock Parker
Globe Correspondent / December 15, 2011
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A group of parents worried about the number of concussions suffered by Arlington High School football players this year is calling for the school district to replace old helmets they fear could be putting their teens at risk.

At least 100 people have signed a warrant article that will ask Arlington’s Town Meeting in the spring to approve $25,000 for updating athletic equipment for the schools, including football helmets, said Stephen Harrington, the chairman of the Arlington Athletics Foundation, which works to raise money for school sports.

Harrington called the school district’s football helmets “junk’’ and said many of them are more than 10 years old. He said parents, worried that the helmets do not provide enough protection, want a concussion-reduction program, and he presented their concerns to the School Committee last week.

School Committee chairwoman Cindy Starks said the school district is looking into the matter.

The Arlington High School athletic director, Ted Dever, said 12 football players had to come out of games this fall because of a suspected head injury, and the program had seven confirmed concussions.

Though any instance in which an athlete is injured is a concern, Dever said, all of the football program’s helmets had been certified for use this year.

The Arlington district, along with schools throughout the state, will have to report the number of head injuries and suspected concussions suffered by students to the state Department of Public Health at the conclusion of the school year, under a law approved by the Legislature last year, according to Jennifer Manley, a spokeswoman for the health department.

The new law is in an attempt to prevent the progression of concussions in student athletes.

Dever said concussions are a hot topic throughout all sports, and he thinks the new rules are increasing awareness of the issue among students, parents, and coaches.

He said safety of the students is Arlington’s top priority, and coaches have been making extra efforts to encourage players to report any head injuries.

“It makes sense that in the past, maybe a kid didn’t want to tell a coach that his head hurts because maybe he didn’t want to come out of a game,’’ Dever said. “The point is, the kids feel comfortable now reporting it. Maybe that is a credit to our coaches.’’

While some football helmets used by Arlington High School are more than 10 years old, Dever said, every helmet has been certified for use by the manufacturers, Riddell and Xenith.

He said the school district orders about five to 10 new helmets a year. An order of a dozen helmets can cost about $2,400, and any additional funding for more equipment would be helpful, Dever said.

The National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association announced this year than football helmets more than 10 years old will not be recertified for next football season, and Dever said that as a result Arlington will need to order 20 to 30 new helmets.

But parents have already been so wary of their children using Arlington’s old equipment, that some have purchased their own football helmets.

Rich MacDonald said he spent $400 on a newer helmet for his 15-year-old son Jeff to use while playing for the junior varsity team at Arlington High School this year.

Unfortunately, MacDonald said, his son took a hit during the first game of the season that resulted in a concussion and prevented him from playing the rest of the year. He said his son had to be taken by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital and missed considerable school time as well as football.

MacDonald said he was pleased with the way the school district handled the injury. But he said he was afraid to put his son in Arlington High School’s equipment and is glad he bought the newer helmet.

“For all I know, it may have saved his life,’’ MacDonald said. “Buying that helmet is no question the best $400 I’ve ever spent in my life.’’

Doug Fagan, who had a son suffer a concussion playing football and another while playing lacrosse at Arlington High last year, said the equipment used by athletes at the school is “sub par at best.’’

With another son playing this year for the freshman team at the high school, Fagan said he questions why parents have to pay a $500 sports activity fee for their children when the helmets are so old.

“I don’t think anyone in the administration wants anyone to get hurt, I just think it’s an oversight,’’ Fagan said.

Starks said after hearing Harrington’s proposed warrant article and the concerns about concussions, the School Committee has referred the matter to its policy and procedures subcommittee, and asked Superintendent Kathleen Bodie to gather more information about the number of concussions.

“We’re looking into it,’’ Starks said.

She said that last month the School Committee adopted a concussion policy as required by the state law approved last year. The law also requires student athletes, their parents, and coaches to pass a training course before they can participate in sports so they will recognize the symptoms of a concussion.

Starks said she has two children who had to pass the training to participate in winter sports.

If replacing football helmets is a matter of safety, she said, the School Committee is likely to support funding for the new equipment.

“I don’t think we’ve ever denied a request for equipment when it comes down to safety,’’ she said.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.

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