Chugiak Football Hopes New Helmets Cut Down On Concussions

Chugiak and Service High School football players collide during the 2012 season. Photo courtesy of the Chugiak High School Football Booster Club.
Chugiak and Service High School football players collide during the 2012 season. Photo by Jen Tulare.

The effects of concussions on football players and ideas on how to prevent them have become a prominent issue in recent years. One Anchorage-area school is taking steps in preventing more traumatic brain injuries in their student-athletes by purchasing new, high-tech helmets.

Last season, the Chugiak High School football team reported five players who experienced concussion-like symptoms.

Chugiak’s head football coach, Duncan Shackelford, says even though there is no helmet on the market that can prevent every concussion from happening, these new helmets would greatly improve the protection around the players’ heads.

“I think the real emphasis right here was to help protect that lower part of the head where a lot of kids would get a helmet up underneath, and stuff like that, and get that snap sometimes underneath that jaw, you know, give just a little bit more protection down there,” Shackelford said. “Also, I’ve noticed that around the sides of the head, there’s not much movement out of the helmet. It gives a more conformed fit around the head.”

The helmets are called Riddell 360s, and they come with a hefty price tag – about $300 each. If the team is able to get all 100 helmets it’s hoping for, it totals out to around $30,000.

As the Anchorage School District battles a $25 million budget shortfall, funding for equipment upgrades isn’t easy to come by. So, Shackelford says the Chugiak High School football booster club and team are looking for other ways to help pay for this new equipment – the public.

“The ‘Adopt-a-Helmet’ program came about from our booster club saying, ‘Look, we know that the school is strapped for money right now, that it’s really tough to provide the kids with constant updated equipment. What can we do to help?,'” Shackelford said.

Shackelford says the program isn’t only aiming to update the team’s equipment, but also to help raise awareness about the seriousness of concussions and traumatic brain injuries in sports.

In response to state legislation passed in 2011, the Alaska School Activities Association, or ASAA, developed a policy for reporting suspected concussions as well as a gradual return to play protocol.

“If it is a concussion, then there is a return to play protocol used, and that is not based on days, it’s based on steps. They have to complete one step to get to the next step. Can it get done in a few days? Typically not, typically it would take six or seven days, but it does depend on how fast that they go from one step to the other step,” Russ Schreckenghost, the associate director of ASAA, said.

The steps Schreckenghost is referring to begin no earlier than 24 hours after the player is free of concussion-like symptoms, and include a gradual increase in physical activity over the course of several days before the player might be eligible to return.

This policy was formally adopted in April 2012.

Coach Shackelford says in recent years there has been more of an effort to understand concussions and how to prevent them.

“We have matured more in the sport at the high school, collegiate and professional level. We start understanding that these injuries have a severe impact on people and that we have to be careful,” Shackelford said.

He hopes these new helmets will fill in another piece of the puzzle in preventing more traumatic brain injuries from occurring.

If you are interested in learning more about Chugiak’s Adopt-a-Helmet program, contact Coach Duncan Shackelford:
Office: 907-742-3098.

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