Pop Warner plays in safer new helmets
Every Saturday in autumn, the crack of football helmets echoes in Selbyville. But this year, when the Lower Sussex Indians Pop Warner football teams suit up, they’re topping each uniform with a brand new, state-of-the-art helmet.
After owning the last batch of helmets for seven years, LSI chose to protect their 7- to 12-year-old players with one of the best names in safety: Xenith.
“They’re leading in protection against concussions,” said Jason Killen, LSI board president. “Concussions are a big problem in youth football and professional football, and it’s also big in Pop Warner and in the news.”
A concussion is a minor traumatic brain injury that can occur when the brain moves inside the skull after sudden impact. Constantly colliding, football players are especially at risk and may suffer headache, memory loss and even unconsciousness.
“The importance of coaches learning to identify a concussion is one step for us to prevent it,” said Killen, noting that two children playing for the LSI were sidelined in 2011 after getting concussions.
With only one week left in the season, LSI had suffered no concussions in 2012, Killen said.
Todd Vickers, equipment manager and board member, researched helmets to find the perfect fit for Sussex players.
The helmets have a “bonnet” system — a series of pads that surround the head. The outer layer covers the bonnet but has room to move. So when linebackers collide, their helmets move slightly to absorb the impact, but the inside padding will cradle their craniums.
This is an improvement over the old foam padding, which conducted shock through the helmet, toward the head.
“Kids always complained that they hurt and were going back for better-fitting helmets,” said parent Kelley Vickers, who has spent much less time refitting players’ helmets this year.
Xenith sent a representative to fit each child individually. With the inner straps specially fitted, players simply place the helmet and pull the chinstrap to lock it in place.
Junior Pee-Wee players said they have felt a difference in the Xenith helmets.
“You don’t feel it when you get hit, usually,” said Mitchell McGee. “It’s actually comfortable!”
“Last year, you could feel the shock. You could feel it hitting,” explained Patrick Banks, who compared the Xenith to an airbag.
Like any parent, Dawn Bowen was concerned about her son’s safety, but Tyler wanted to play football, and he’s now in his third year on the Mitey Mites.
“It makes me feel safer, having these helmets, compared to the old helmets,” said Bowen.
While some of the helmets were as much as seven years old, they were refurbished every three years. Professional refurbishing included tests for hairline cracks, sanitation and replacement of masks and padding.
Xenith helmets cost $96 each for an order of 144 helmets, plus additional costs, said Killen. The Lower Sussex Indians expressed much gratitude to the Quiet Resorts Charitable Foundation, which donated $5,000 toward the new helmets.
With a third of the cost for the new helmets covered, LSI still fundraises year-round to support youth football. The banners of other donors line the field at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts, the Selbyville site LSI calls home. Killen estimated that it costs $350 to uniform each player, but the kids only pay $75 to participate.
“We couldn’t do it without the donations,” said Kelley Vickers. “We couldn’t ask the kids to pay that much.”
Todd Vickers said LSI’s next goal is to upgrade their shoulder pads.
To learn more about supporting Lower Sussex Indians Pop Warner, contact Jason Killen at (302) 858-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Todd Vickers at (302) 236-9164.
The Lower Sussex Indians will host Homecoming festivities during their last regular-season games Saturday, Oct. 28, at Southern Delaware School of the Arts. The Mitey Mites will kick off at 9 a.m., Junior Pee-Wee at 11 a.m. and Pee-Wee at 1 p.m.