KUSA - A 9Wants to Know investigation finds dozens of Colorado high schools are using football helmets rated as less likely to protect against concussions.
See the INTERACTIVE MAP to learn more about football helmets used in 234 Colorado high schools.
9NEWS used state open records laws to obtain football helmet inventories from all nearly all school districts in Colorado. 9Wants to Know compared those helmet models to research from the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering. Virginia Tech tested 18 helmet models in 2013, looking at how helmets absorbed direct impacts, intended to mimic real-life football hits. Virginia Tech rates the helmets in an effort to guide consumers on which helmets may do best in preventing concussions.
9Wants to know received data from 234 high schools in the state. Of those, 16 schools say they have Adams A2000 Pro-Elite brand helmets in their inventory. Those helmets are rated the lowest by the Virginia Tech STAR rating system. Those helmets received no stars.
"We don't think anyone should ever wear that helmet and play football," said Virginia Tech professor Stefan Duma. "Especially at the high school level."
An additional 22 schools are using helmet models that received one or two star ratings - considered "Marginal" or just "Adequate" in reducing the impact to the head when hit.
While 38 (16 percent) of responding schools indicated they used at least some helmets that are rated two stars or less, 115 schools (49 percent) use at least some helmets that received five stars. Five star helmets are labeled "Best Available."
All of the surveyed schools use helmets approved by the Colorado High School Activities Association known as CHSAA.
CHSAA Commissioner Paul Angelico said he never heard of the Virginia Tech STAR system. "Anything you make is good, better, best, but I don't know what those standards are," he said. Angelico chooses to focus on educating young players on proper blocking and tackling to avoid concussion, and he wants to help coaches and parents identify and treat concussions when they occur.
CHSAA requires schools adhere to the NOCSAE's pass-fail standard. NOCSAE, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, has been certifying sports helmets for 40 years. It is a non-profit organization, partly funded by helmet manufacturers.
"We know there are these other mechanisms that cause these inter-cranial sheer strains that result in injury," said Dave Halstead, who serves as a technical expert for NOCSAE. "We're not sure what to do. If you're not sure what to do, you best not make the wrong decision."
Schutt Sports had helmets rated between two and four stars, and the company questions Virginia Tech's methodology and conclusions. Schutt sent a statement to 9News saying "Schutt helmets, with TPU Cushioning, absorb more force under a wider variety of temperatures than any other cushioning system on the field. Independent testing has proven that 3 years in a row. But there is no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet. Football helmets were never designed to prevent or reduce concussions."
Riddell, which had two models rated as five stars, is more supportive. Riddell told 9News, "Just as we evaluate our football helmets across many different metrics, we recommend that parents, players and coaches consider multiple data points when choosing a football helmet. The Virginia Tech STAR rating system is one such data point that should be taken into consideration."
9Wants to Know has alerted 16 Colorado high schools their football programs are using some of the lowest rated helmets in the country, according to an investigation of all 180 districts in the state.
Learn more about concussion prevention and management from the REAP program and Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.