By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
Kyle Oppenheimer started his non-profit organization, Helmets to Heal, with two goals in mind: to decrease concussions in youth sports and increase youth football participation by educating parents on ways to make football a safer sport.
Oppenheimer was a defensive coach at Racine Horlick High (Wisc.) in 2016 when he appealed to his employer for a donation of 40 helmets for the football team.
“The answer was no,” Oppenheimer said. “I decided to start my own foundation and partner with as many schools as possible.”
Oppenheimer started Helmets to Heal in Racine, Wisc., and through fundraising efforts in the first year, donated 150 Xenith helmets to multiple programs.
After distributing the helmets to programs in need of new equipment, Oppenheimer decided to take it one step further. He researched the impact that new equipment had on safety—and more specifically, the number of concussions suffered by players. He found that of the 76 players that wore the Xenith Epic helmets that Helmets to Heal supplied in the first year, not a single player suffered from a concussion.
“Now, we’re providing the data and putting programs together to help lower youth concussions,” Oppenheimer said.
The other piece to Helmets to Heal’s mission is the education of parents on concussion research and preventative strategies. Helmets to Heal has endorsed the King-Devick (K-D) Test, a 2-minute, sideline assessment of rapid number naming that requires the athletes to quickly read a series of numbers on three test cards given on a 9.4-inch tablet. Worsening of performance on the K-D Test from their baseline has been shown to be an accurate indicator of a concussion. The addition of this type of vision-based test has also been shown to enhance the detection of athletes with a concussion.
Oppenheimer has also endorsed products like Hobart-Mayfield’s S.A.F.E Clip, the TeamSafe app., and Tackle Tube, which promotes practice strategies that teach proper tackling technique, while limiting the amount of live, full-contact periods in each practice.
“As a former coach, I know we want to tell parents as much as we can, but we don’t want to scare them away from the sport,” Oppenheimer said. “Some parents spend the $200 for their kids to play football, and they don’t look into it any further. We’re working on a culture change. The old days of rubbing dirt on the wound have to go away. This is a different generation. Like any business, we have to mold to the clientele.”
Helmets to Heal Partners
Xenith is a football helmet company out of Detroit, Michigan. Helmets to Heal works with Xenith because their helmets are different from any helmet on the market. Xenith was the only helmet manufacturer to show Oppenheimer how their free-floating shell and bonnet system decelerate the head. To date, Helmets to Heal has donated 150 Xenith football helmets to kids aging from 8 to 18 years old. None of the players with Xenith helmets have recorded a concussion yet.
The King-Devick (K-D) Test is a 2-minute, sideline assessment that requires athletes to quickly read a series of numbers on three test cards given on a 9.4-inch tablet. The K-D Test requires eye movements, language function, and attention to perform functions that have been shown to reflect suboptimal brain function in concussion. The K-D Test has been studied as an acute sideline concussion screening tool in several cohorts throughout a variety of contact sports, including boxers and mixed martial arts fighters, collegiate athletes in contact sports, amateur rugby players, elite professional hockey players and high school level football and hockey. In these cohorts, worsening of performance on the K-D Test from the baseline was shown to be an accurate indicator of a concussion. The addition of this type of vision-based test has also been shown to enhance the detection of athletes with a concussion.
Helmets to Heal
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