Coaches tackle playing safety at AFCA convention

Coaches tackle playing safety at AFCA convention
Published: Jan. 11, 2015 at 9:19 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 26, 2015 at 12:01 AM EST
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - More than a quarter-century later, Mark Kelso can show off the ProCap he wore over his helmet as a safety for the Buffalo Bills. He swears it saved both his head and his career after suffering four concussions in the 1988-89 seasons.

"I was in helmet protection before helmet protection was cool," Kelso told those attending the American Football Coaches Association's annual gathering, underway at the Kentucky International Convention Center. The AFCA National Convention is expected to draw 7,000 youth, high school and college coaches to clinics, job-networking and window-shopping for team equipment.

"A lot of the (concussion prevention) push now is driven by Moms," Kelso continued. "Certainly, the football participation numbers are down at the youth level."

The day Kentucky's high school football season began this past August, a WAVE 3 News Troubleshooter investigation revealed that one quarter of the helmets in use in Jefferson County Public Schools scored so low on a nationally-recognized five star safety scale that the scale's creator urged the helmets be replaced.

Convention attendees can consider offerings from several vendors, each of which proclaims its helmet, or helmet cover/liner provides 4-or-5 star protection.

"The single-piece liner, any hit you take on that helmet, the energy is distributed helmet wide," said Mark Aho, a youth-football coach turned rep for five-star rated SG Helmets. The helmet combines carbon fiber with Kevlar, the synthetic fiber commonly associated with bullet-resistant protective vests.

It weighs less than two pounds and retails for $350.

"The hard question is what's going to be around, and what's going to kind of go to the side," said former pro player turned college coach Al Johnson.

Johnson saw service at center for the Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins from 2003 to 2008. Now offensive coordinator for Division 3 St. Norbert College in his native Wisconsin, he realizes that upgrading equipment can become expensive, quickly.

"Definitely, over time, it has to be done, whenever we're talking about safety of players," he said. "But it might take a year or two years."

JCPS won't have to wait that long. A $150,000 grant from Norton Healthcare will cover the cost to replace those low-scoring helmets, hire three more athletic trainers, and provide baseline testing for concussions for 10,000 high school and middle school athletes spread across nine sports.

"(A better helmet) doesn't buy you a weapon," Aho said. "You don't have that battering ram on your head. But that goes back to us as coaches."

"I'm a 30 plus year coach, still making sure we teach these kids how to tackle right."

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