An Action News Jax Investigation reveals the safety of local high school football helmets

An Action News Jax Investigation reveals the safety of local high school football helmets

For Bishop Kenny High School freshman Jackson Burnett, football is all about confidence on the field. He said playing scared in a contact sport can lead to serious injuries.

"If you hesitate, that one awkward hesitation could lead to an injury," Burnett said. "The hit could come at the wrong time. But if you're going full speed then everything kind of just goes and the injuries are less common."

Despite a few years on the field, this freshman played on his school's varsity team. His father, who also played high school football, agreed that a player can't walk on the field in fear.

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"You have a choice, you either be brave or be playing out there in fear," John Burnett said. "If you're playing in fear, might as well sit on a bench because you're not doing yourself any good."

Protecting student-athletes with proper safety gear is the responsibility of the school coaches and athletic directors. The Florida High School Athletic Association has established operational bylaws, which include procedures for inspecting and purchasing equipment.

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According to the FHSAA, each school is responsible for selecting and purchasing appropriate equipment. Due to the protective equipment required in football, the FHSAA created a set of procedures for fall and spring practices:
•    The first two days of practice are restricted to helmets only, 
•    Days three to five can introduce shoulder-pads with shorts,
•    Beginning day six of practice, full gear can be utilized and body-to-body contact is permitted.

Prior to every high school football season, each schools' athletic director or coach must inspect helmets, pads, and gear to make sure they're up to code. Helmets are also sent back to the manufacture for a special inspection. Each helmet is either reconditioned or rejected, which is based on damage or if the helmets are older than 10 years.

Action News Jax dug through those reports for every high school in all nine of our local Florida counties. It revealed all local high schools are following the rules to inspect and repair helmets and discard the ones that are too old or damaged.

Sandalwood High School head football coach Adam Geis said they start inspecting helmets as soon as their fall football season is over. According to records, Action News Jax found they sent 114 helmets to get reconditioned and six were discarded.

"If you don't send them back to the factory, you're not going to know if there's a hairline fracture in that helmet," Geis said. "When I send those helmets out and I get them back in two months brand new pretty much. Then I know my guys are going to be protected as well as I can protect them."

Geis said they have four different brands of helmets at Sandalwood High School, and some are the same models used by players in the NFL. 
Depending on the cost, each helmet can add up to $400 or $1,000. Geis said the department usually spends about $600 on repairs each year.

"If I put them out in something that I wouldn't want my own kid wearing, there comes a certain point where it's me kind of betraying them," Geis said.

To find helmet inspections records for a specific local school, click here.

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