SUMMIT, NJ - A group of football program parents, aided by player fundraising efforts and a significant corporate contribution, has funded the nearly $36,000 purchase of 90 helmets for the Summit High School Football program which will see the Hilltoppers take the field this season equipped with headgear featuring what industry experts believe to be the most advanced safety technology.

The Riddell SpeedFlex helmet has received five stars from the Virginia Tech Helmet Rankings, a initiative formed in 2011 that results in Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University researchers providing unbiased helmet ratings that allow consumers to make informed decisions when purchasing helmets. The helmet ratings are the culmination of over 10 years of research on head impacts in sports and identify which helmets best reduce concussion risk. The work is done as part of Virginia Tech’s service mission and is 100% independent of any funding or influence from helmet manufacturers.

"Above all else, safety is our primary concern for all our student athletes in the program," said Summit High School Head Football Coach Kevin Kostibos. "Football is a collision sport and, while we coach proper tackling techniques from the youth level on up, the helmet is a vital piece of protection. I look at this way: if my son was playing, I would want him wearing this helmet."

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The program first approached the traditional potential funding sources -- the school's athletic department and the Summit Public School District -- and was informed that funds were not available.

Summit Superintendent of Schools June Chang, in an e-mail to TAPinto Summit, said, "The existing helmets are certified, safe, and reconditioned every year. They meet the standards under NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment). Most HS (high school) football teams in the state use similar helmets. The parent fundraising efforts and donations have provided an opportunity for us to exceed the standard and enhance student-athlete safety on the field.

As a District, we are steadfast in securing the safety of all our students which is why this was discussed in Operations Committee and reported out at the BOE meeting that we are supportive of the fundraising efforts. The health and security of our students is always part of any discussion related to budgetary decisions."

Undeterred, a group of parents -- spearheaded by Noel Shepard -- continued the initiative, which was greatly aided by a significant donation by Salerno Duane Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram and Ford in Summit.

"Without the support of Salerno Duane, this (the purchase of the helmets) likely doesn't happen," said Kostibos.

From its perspective, Salerno Duane said making the contribution was an easy decision according to Salerno Duane General Manager Michael Podell. "Doing everything to make our kids more safe by giving them the best protection possible? I think that is the community's obligation. Summit is our home, and these boys represent our community with toughness, talent and class. We were happy to help get this done."

According to Riddell, the SpeedFlex helmet uses elements from both the Riddell Revolution and the Riddell 360 – such as a Patented Side Impact Protection and All-Points Quick Release face mask attachment system -- but almost every component in the SpeedFlex is new, from the shell to the face mask to the chin strap to the interior padding system. 

The SpeedFlex features The Flex System, with flexibility engineered into the helmet’s shell, face mask and face mask attachment system with hinge clips to help reduce impact force transfer to the athlete.

Riddell -- and the Virginia Tech researchers -- are both quick to point out that no helmet can make a player concussion-proof, and that many factors, including the helmet itself, can help reduce risk with the helmet being "just one piece of the equation." The Virginia Tech researchers add, however, that "Having the best available head protection for the remaining head impacts further reduces risk."

The Summit Youth Football program, which has seen a decrease in participation as concussion-related parent concerns have risen, is exploring the purchase of the junior SpeedFlex model.

"Football is an amazing sport -- as techniques and technology advances, we are committed to be at the leading edge of player safety at every level of the program," said Kostibos.