When Student Safety is on the Line, No Price is Too High


By Amy Orr

Football player Dyland Davis in a new helmet.
Football player Dyland Davis in a new helmet.

Head injuries make headlines. From Hollywood movies like Concussion to articles online and in the New York Times, brain degeneration is a serious subject. As knowledge grows about the lasting effects of repetitive head impact, football programs look for ways to minimize player injuries.

This summer, Laguna Beach High School  will be making a big investment in the safety of its athletes. Athletic director Lance Neal said the Laguna Beach Unified School District  and the LBHS Football Boosters are partnering to purchase revolutionary new football helmets for every player in the school. Costs will be shared equally between the two groups.

The high-tech helmets are manufactured by VICIS, a Seattle-based company that decided to re-engineer helmet structure. After tests in 2017 and 2018, the National Football League  and the National Football League Players Association  listed the VICIS ZERO1 as the safest helmet on the market. The device was also named one of Time Magazine’s 25 Best Inventions of 2017.

“Unlike a traditional football helmet, the ZERO1 has an outer shell that will deform and an inner structure made of columns that bend like a car bumper to mitigate impact forces,” explained Tony Titus, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for VICIS. “Football is a sport where the long-term effects of head injuries can be cumulative. It’s important to provide the best equipment as early in a player’s football career as possible.”

High quality comes at a price. Each VICIS ZERO1 costs almost $1,000. Because LBHS is committed to protect every football player, from frosh/soph to varsity, Coach Shanahan said he plans to purchase 80 to 85 helmets for mid-summer delivery. LBHS squads begin summer conditioning June 25 and start practicing in gear on August 6.

Athletic Director Lance Nealand LBHS Football Coach John Shanahan.
Athletic Director Lance Nealand LBHS Football Coach John Shanahan.

“I am proud that we are able to outfit all of our players with the helmet with the best test results on the market,” said Michael Fink, father of twin LBHS football players Drew and Connor Fink. “If we avoid even one concussion over the course of the helmet’s life, the funding is well worth the effort.”

Buying new helmets is just one of the ways that LBHS is working to ensure player safety. Coach Shanahan said that football drills often implement a two-hand touch instead of an impact. When contact is needed, Coach Darren Crawford, a certified tackle instructor, teaches players how to tackle properly. In addition, LBHS has artificial turf, a surface that absorbs impact better than a traditional grass field, according to LBHS Athletic Trainer Tim Crilly.

Crilly said the LBHS football team has had 15 concussions over the past three years. He said that any player suspected of having a concussion is removed and evaluated by a health care provider; anyone diagnosed with a concussion is barred from activity for a minimum of seven days.

“There is no such thing as a concussion proof helmet,” Crilly said, “but the construction and tests that have been done on them [the VICIS ZERO1] to date are promising.”

“When we saw the test results,” Shanahan said, “we got really excited. This is the biggest leap in the evolution of helmets.”

Lance Neal said he grew up playing tackle football and never felt unsafe. However, he said that protecting players is a priority.

“Those who love football are passionate about playing the game, so we want to make head safety a non-issue,” Neal said. “I am excited about the opportunity to provide the best equipment on the market.”

Shanahan concurred, “As a coach, I am tremendously grateful to the support from the District and the Boosters. The kids can’t wait to wear these helmets!”

LBHS Football will open its 2018 season on Friday, August 24 at Morningside High School.


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  1. Tackle football is a collision sport, that is collisions are built into the game. Collision sports differ from other sports where head trauma occurs as a result of unanticipated events (diving, bicycling). The younger one is when one starts playing tackle football, the higher the risk of later Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Severe CTE has been found in students who only played on high school or college teams. The NFL, which has a long history of producing misleading science on concussions evaluated these helmets for “potentially concussive head impacts.” However the data shows that concussive and SUBconcussive impacts both contribute to CTE. I can not find any field trial (with markers of symptoms, cognitive function, or MRI scans) that demonstrates the superior protective value of these helmets. Steven Miles, MD, Professor of Medicine (emeritus), University of Minnesota


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