Robert Borisch doesn’t want his son, Zach, to receive a free school-issued football helmet this fall — he’ll spend $450 to provide one instead.
Kamiakin High School’s helmets protect players, but they don’t have the “excellent” rating the Riddell 360 Revolution helmet Robert wants for his son, a quarterback who will be a senior — and that’s the rub.
“I don’t want what’s good enough, I want what’s best,” he said.
Districts around the country increasingly allow parents to supply essential gear for their football-playing kids. In recent years, more evidence has emerged of former football players suffering from conditions linked to concussions, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
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The Kennewick School Board has approved allowing parents to purchase their child’s own football helmet, something previously prohibited.
That decision wasn’t unanimous. Board member Ron Mabry criticized the move, saying he is “afraid we’re going to have the perception that some kids are better protected than others.”
The Pasco and Richland districts do not allow players to provide their own helmets.
“We purchase the best helmets on the market for our players at Richland (High School),” said coach Mike Niedhold in comments provided by the school district. “There is no need for a parent to buy a helmet.”
Robert Borisch told the Kennewick board that Kamiakin High has a great program for reconditioning — or assessing and repairing — helmets after each season.
He later told the Herald that the school even provided custom shoulder pads for Zach, to ensure he had properly fitted gear.
Despite that, and pointedly saying no one at the school has a shabby helmet, the nature of his son’s position makes it prudent that Zach has the best helmet out there, he said.
I don’t want what’s good enough, I want what’s best.
Robert Borisch, Kennewick parent
Zach tried the Riddell 360 Revolution, which retails from $450 to $500, during a football camp last year at Oregon State University. He hasn’t ever worn it during a game, but said it is more comfortable and modern than the one issued to him by his school.
Like his father, Zach points out that Kamiakin High has good equipment and he has no complaints, but he’s excited to get his new helmet.
“You’re already protected, you’re just getting a little extra,” the high school quarterback said.
Virginia Tech’s STAR rating system has led to parents with kids playing football — not only in high school but also in Pop Warner youth programs — using the system to pick the best helmet, according to a report from the Bloomberg news service.
As a result, most helmet manufacturers have sought to develop helmets that do well in the STAR system.
However, some criticize the ratings for weighting scores to favor protection from the frequent, smaller hits players experience, versus stronger hits more likely to cause a concussion.
Safety and style
Kennewick district administrators assured board members the football equipment at all the district’s schools sufficiently protects students.
Superintendent Dave Bond said the recommendation to allow parents to buy their student’s own helmet was largely driven by recent guidance from the district’s insurer, Clear Risk.
Insurance companies used to discourage districts from allowing student athletes to use privately purchased helmets, because it could be seen as a district indirectly admitting it may not offer good equipment, Bond said.
The reasoning now is if a student is injured wearing a helmet the family purchased, the district can protect itself against a claim by noting the student willfully chose to use equipment not provided by the district.
I do believe our helmets protect our kids.
Kennewick Superintendent Dave Bond
Kennewick will still retain control over a student’s helmet, even if it is privately purchased. Parents will have to notify the district what helmet they want for their child and provide the money to the district for its purchase, instead of directly buying it themselves.
The helmet will remain in school hands throughout a student’s playing career and be subject to the same reconditioning that district-owned helmets undergo.
Safety may not be the only reason players and their families seek privately purchased helmets. Comfort — as Zach noted about the Riddell his family plans to buy — and appearance may be considerations.
Prosser High School has allowed its football players to provide their own helmets for the past two years, said Principal Kevin Lusk, and a handful of players have taken advantage of it.
The district requires parents buy a helmet that at minimum meets the safety standard of the district’s own equipment, but it seems to be the accessories, from chin straps to face masks, that are part of the allure.
“Quite frankly, I think it’s more they want to look cool,” Lusk said.
Special treatment vs. choice
Mabry believes the new policy allows students with money to ignore a uniform and creates an unequal playing field, he said.
He asked how long it will be before students buy their own shoulder pads and other protective gear.
“The image is going to be that those who can’t afford helmets will get inferior helmets,” Mabry said.
That line of thinking appears to be a consideration in Richland and Pasco.
“(Pasco School District) provides all equipment for student athletes to ensure that the equipment meets required safety standards and that there is equity for all athletes,” said Pasco spokeswoman Leslee Caul.
The image is going to be that those who can’t afford helmets will get inferior helmets.
Ron Mabry, Kennewick School Board
Kennewick board member Brian Brooks said ensuring student safety doesn’t necessarily mean limiting options available to students and their families.
“As parents, you have a natural inclination to protect your children to the highest level possible,” Brooks said, adding “no one who turns out to play will be denied safe equipment.”
Robert Borisch said his desire to provide his son’s helmet had nothing to do with giving him an edge on the field, but about protecting him to the best of his family’s ability.
He added that many high school football players already use some privately purchased gear, be it their cleats or gloves.
And he has no issue with the requirements the district will place on him.
“I plan to email them ... and ask them when they want their money,” Borisch said.