Newsday’s All-Long Island teams 2016-17

Newsday reveals its All-Long Island teams for the 2016-17 spring sports season.

The photo shoot is scheduled for Wednesday, June 14 at Newsday’s Melville headquarters. Coaches will be notified of specifics on Monday night.

Search our database for every Newsday All-Long Island selection in history.

Winter 2017 All-Long Island teams

Search our database for every Newsday All-Long Island selection in history.

Fall 2016 All-Long Island teams

Search our database for every Newsday All-Long Island selection in history.

Newsday’s All-Long Island teams 2015-16

Watch the videos below as Newsday reveals its All-Long Island teams for sports in the Spring 2016 high school season.

Coaches will be contacted tonight regarding photo shoots for the teams as part of our All-Long Island special section in a later edition of Newsday. The photo shoots are scheduled for the afternoons of Wednesday, June 15 and Thursday, June 16.

Winter 2015-16 teams

Newsday’s All-Long Island teams for nine sports in the Winter 2015-16 season.

Fall 2015 sports

Newsday’s All-Long Island teams for nine sports in the Fall 2015 high school season.

Hard Knocks: Helmets, concussion and Long Island high school football

Football helmets, the iconic piece of equipment in America’s most popular sport, are at the center of the debate over concussions that is roiling the way the game is played at all levels.

On Long Island, there are nearly 10,000 student-athletes playing football on 239 varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams at 116 high schools.

Experts say the helmet is the last line of defense against head injuries. But how well a helmet can help prevent a concussion is a source of controversy among neurologists, medical researchers, helmet manufacturers and football coaches.

A typical high school football player receives about 650 hits to the head per season, according to researchers at Purdue University and the University of Michigan. The impacts of those hits are the equivalent of what a seat-belted passenger experiences in car accidents ranging from 15-to-35 mph, according to University of Nebraska professor Timothy Gay, author of “The Physics of Football.”

There are many factors that contribute to concussions: speed, acceleration, the angle of a tackle and a player’s physical size among them. Players are bigger and stronger than ever before, which presents enormous challenges to the efforts to protect them from head injuries. Neurologists also don’t know why some hits cause concussions in certain players and not in others.

A seven-month Newsday examination into head safety in high school football on Long Island — which included analyzing concussion reports from 104 of the 116 schools and helmet inventories from 108 schools and interviews with more than 80 neurologists, researchers, helmet manufacturers, state athletic officials, superintendents, athletic directors, coaches, players and parents — found:

— Entering this football season there were 885 football helmets in circulation that are classified as “low performers” at reducing the risk of concussion, according to safety ratings that Virginia Tech researchers have been publishing since 2011. The testing grades helmets on their ability to reduce head acceleration within the helmet on impact. A five-star helmet is the best at reducing the risk of concussion. A one-star helmet is the least effective. The study’s lead author, Stefan Duma, is surprised these 885 one- and two-star helmets remain in circulation. “Four years later these should have definitely been phased out,” he said.

— There are 60 schools with one- or two-star helmets in inventories obtained by Newsday. In response to Newsday’s inquiries, 18 schools said they either removed those helmets from their inventories or did not issue them to athletes this season.

New Hyde Park, in the Sewanhaka school district, has the most with 71 one-star helmets in its inventory. District Superintendent Ralph Ferrie said in July he was comfortable with players still wearing one-star helmets because they meet the safety standards set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), which oversees helmet use in football on all levels. Despite Ferrie’s previous comments, the district purchased 160 five-star helmets on Tuesday for $38,400 and said it plans to swap out all of the one- and two-star helmets currently being worn when the helmets arrive Friday, a district spokeswoman said.

— Of the 9,502 helmets in circulation at 108 of the 116 high schools that responded to Newsday’s request, there were 2,898 five-star (30.5 percent) and 4,576 four-star (48.2 percent) helmets. Another 408 (4.3 percent) have no rating because they are more than 5 years old and were no longer being made when Virginia Tech released its first ratings in 2011.

— There were 364 reported concussions during practices or games last season at districts covering 88 public high schools and two private schools.

—There were 14 high schools that said they had no football players suffer concussions on any of their teams, including varsity, junior varsity and freshman.

— Six players on Long Island were not cleared to return to athletic activities for more than four months because of lingering concussion symptoms. The longest time missed was 202 days.

Find your school’s helmet inventory


    ‘Brain was rebooting’

    Yusuf Young doesn’t remember much about the final plays of his high school football career.

    The former Roosevelt High School linebacker was playing in last year’s Long Island championship game against Shoreham-Wading River when a swarm of blockers came his way during a third-quarter running play. He stepped into the path of the oncoming bodies and took the brunt of a blocker’s helmet-to-helmet hit.

    On the next play, Young was knocked to the ground, and, according to the school’s concussion incident report, hit his head on the ground.

    “At first I didn’t think I was hurt that bad,” Young said. “I tried to stay in the game, but it was like I kept falling, I was so weak . . . It felt like my brain was rebooting.”

    Young stayed in the game for two more plays. When he returned to the sideline, he dropped to his knees and tumbled to the ground. As he was being checked by a physician on the sideline, he said his mom rushed to his side and, through tears, implored him to go to the hospital. Young was taken by ambulance to an emergency room at Stony Brook University Hospital, where doctors told him he had suffered a concussion.

    Young, now 18, graduated from Roosevelt in June and is attending Nassau Community College this fall.

    Young was the only Roosevelt player removed from play last season on either the JV or varsity because of a concussion, according to documents obtained by Newsday.

    The school’s incident report said Young was confused, dizzy and was sensitive to noise in the aftermath of the hits to the head.

    According to a doctor’s note, Young returned to school the next day following the concussion but “was sent home because he was feeling drowsy.” Young said the school’s athletic director, Michael Jones, drove him home.

    “I know I wouldn’t want my kid walking home after something like that,” Jones said.

    Paperwork provided by the school indicates that Young began the school’s return-to-play protocol that Thursday, five days after the concussion.

    The protocol, part of New York’s concussion management act of 2012, includes gradually increasing a player’s activity level for a series of days. He was cleared to return to sports by the school physician Dec. 10, nearly two weeks after the concussion.

    Helmet testing

    Stefan Duma, a biomedical engineering professor, said he modeled Virginia Tech’s independently funded helmet rating system after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s five-star car safety rating system.

    Some neurologists say Virginia Tech’s ratings overinflate a helmet’s role in preventing concussions and oversimplify the complexities behind the science of concussions. However, just as safety testing changed the way the automobile industry made cars, Virginia Tech’s ratings changed the way football helmets are made.

    The number of five-star helmet models being manufactured has risen to eight from one since the ratings were first made public in 2011.

    Riddell makes the most helmets in use on Long Island, followed by Schutt, Xenith and Rawlings, which announced in June it will no longer produce football helmets because it was not profitable enough.

    Riddell credited the Virginia Tech ratings for encouraging schools to accelerate their helmet replacement plans.

    “We think kids should be in the best available technology,” said Thad Ide, Riddell’s senior vice president for research and product development.

    Xenith chief executive Joe Esposito called the ratings “the de facto industry standard” and said Xenith wouldn’t put a new helmet on the market that wasn’t five stars.

    On Long Island, two schools — Oyster Bay and Port Jefferson — replaced their inventories with all new five-star helmets after the death of Shoreham-Wading River junior Thomas Cutinella following a helmet-to-helmet hit last year. Port Jefferson spent $14,749 on 50 new five-star helmets. Oyster Bay spent $33,915 on 85 five-star helmets equipped with a sensor system that alerts a handheld device when a hit registers above a certain threshold of force.

    Northport is the only other school with all five-star helmets. Typically, schools buy about 10 helmets per year, according to purchase orders obtained by Newsday.

    Helmets worn by high school players are the same makes and models as those worn in the NFL. The league says it’s “mandatory” that teams make the Virginia Tech ratings available to players, a spokesman said.

    Schutt chief executive Robert Erb, who lives in Manhasset, described the ratings as “one piece of information with all sorts of caveats.”

    Schutt’s website touts that it makes the highest-rated helmet, but Erb doesn’t believe the ratings indicate which helmet is best at reducing concussion risk.

    “There are simply too many variables taking place on a football field for such testing to be predictive of risk reduction,” Erb said.

    But Dr. Michael Egnor, a professor of neurosurgery at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine, said Duma’s team has done “the best and most rigorous work” studying which helmets decrease head acceleration the best.

    “And if it were my kid, I would want him to be wearing one of the higher-rated helmets,” Egnor said.

    Other experts agree.

    “I would not put my kid in one of those one-star helmets,” said Kevin Guskiewicz, co-director of the University of North Carolina’s Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center and a member of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee.

    Virginia Tech tests helmets in a laboratory by dropping them 120 times from predetermined heights to simulate the different forces of impacts that its research says a football player would expect to experience during a season.

    A separate six-year study by researchers from eight universities, including Virginia Tech, tracked the force of impacts and concussions suffered by college football players from 2005 to 2010 wearing a one-star helmet and a four-star helmet. The researchers determined there was a 54 percent reduction in concussions among players in the four-star helmet compared with the one-star.

    But just as injuries and deaths can happen to people in a car with a five-star safety rating, Duma says that a five-star helmet by no means guarantees someone won’t get a concussion.

    “There’s always going to be a risk,” Duma said. “It’s about risk reduction . . . At the end of the day, I ask people this simple question: Do you want to wear a helmet that lowers head acceleration or not? We tell you which ones lower head acceleration better than others, and you can pick.”

    NFL players choose which helmet to wear. The Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. wears a five-star helmet, the Jets’ Darrelle Revis wears a four-star helmet and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wears a one-star.

    In July the NFL and the NFL Players Association released the results of their own helmet rating system. The NFL’s testing focused on high-impact hits more typical of the professional game. Virginia Tech’s testing is designed to replicate both high- and low-impact hits.

    NFL’s helmet safety rating poster in Jets’ locker room (Patrick E. McCarthy)

    The NFL/NFLPA listed helmets from best to worst and separated them into two groupings: top performers and low performers. The poster that ranks the helmets says “there was no statistically significant difference in performance” among helmets in the top grouping.

    The league’s grouping of helmets was consistent with Virginia Tech’s, aside from a few outliers. But the league says “it is important to emphasize that these results were based on testing intended to represent NFL impacts and thus, the conclusions on helmet performance cannot be extrapolated to collegiate, high school or youth football.”

    Unlike NFL players, high school players have little say as to what’s available to them. Either the coach or athletic director purchases the helmets, which range in cost from $150 to $400 each. Some schools said they will allow an athlete to purchase his own helmet if asked. Other schools do not allow it for liability reasons.

    NOCSAE, which oversees helmet use in football, recommends but does not require that helmets be reconditioned every year.

    Reconditioning is a process in which the padding in the helmets is cleaned and, if needed, replaced, and the helmets are recertified for use by NOCSAE standards. This costs schools about $35 per helmet. Helmets can be reconditioned only up to their original specifications, so a three-star helmet cannot be upgraded to a five-star, Duma said.

    Concussion management

    New York State’s concussion management act was passed by the legislature in July 2011 and went into effect for the 2012-13 school year. The result of a nationwide push for better standards, the act mandates that any public school athlete suspected of suffering a concussion must be removed from play and cannot return until he or she has written authorization by a licensed physician.

    Experts say concussion reporting relies on players speaking up, coaches noticing a violent hit or the athletic trainer recognizing a difference in a player’s behavior. Sometimes there are no immediate symptoms.

    Dawn Comstock, an epidemiology professor at the University of Colorado in Denver, has been tracking high school sports injuries, including concussions, on the national level since 2006. She said concussions are the most challenging injury to track.

    The incident reports obtained by Newsday offer firsthand accounts of how difficult these injuries are to recognize if the athlete doesn’t speak up.

    One player “made a tackle and hit his helmet” in practice and “experienced a headache during and after practice” but did not say anything until the next afternoon. He sat out 21 days before he was cleared to return to play.

    One high school reported 11 concussions last season. But in seven of those the incident report notes that the student did not report any symptoms at the time of the injury. Instead, the athlete spoke up either after the game, to his parents at home or to the school’s health office at a later time.

    Another player “did not report [injury] at game. Three days later complained of head injury.” Records show he was diagnosed with a concussion and missed 44 days before he was cleared by a physician to play.

    Other reports offer a glimpse into the symptoms that occur after a concussion.

    One high school player was unable to compete for 38 days. The injury report states, “Coach reports no known hit. Teammates reported athlete appeared confused last 5 minutes of play. Student had no recall of game.”

    A report says a player lost consciousness during a game for approximately 15-20 seconds. “When regained consciousness, could not answer questions except ‘yes/no’ squeezing my hand.” The student was cleared to return to athletics 39 days later.

    Safety guidelines

    A high school football player in a Seattle suburb died of an undisclosed injury on Monday, three days after getting hurt while making a tackle. He is the fourth high school football player to die this season. A player in Louisiana suffered a neck injury, a player in New Jersey died of a lacerated spleen and a player in Oklahoma had a head injury, according to news reports.

    At football games, a doctor or medical personnel such as an athletic trainer is recommended to be on hand to assist with injuries, according to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the state’s governing body that oversees all aspects of interscholastic sports. But medical presence is not required, NYSPHSAA assistant director Todd Nelson said.

    Nassau’s Section VIII, the county’s governing body for interscholastic sports, requires schools to have medical representation “of their choice” on the sideline at all football games. Examples Nassau provides are a doctor, physician assistant, a certified emergency medical technician (EMT), a certified advanced medical technician (AMT) or an athletic trainer certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association.

    Suffolk’s Section XI, the county’s governing body for interscholastic sports, follows the state athletic association’s guidelines.

    An athletic trainer’s job at a football game is to be on constant lookout for player injuries and be prepared to put the emergency action plan in place in the event of a serious injury, according to Larry Cooper, chair of the National Athletic Trainers Association’s high school athletic trainers committee.

    “The way we look at the game is completely different from anybody else,” Cooper said. “We’re looking at the game with an eye on the health and safety of the players.”

    At football practices — or any other high school sport practices — there are no state requirements that an athletic trainer be present, Nelson said.

    Thomas Dompier, lead epidemiologist at the Indianapolis-based Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention, said Long Island’s concussion figures are likely underreported because of a lack of an athletic trainer at every school.

    A study led by Dompier that was published in July in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics tracked 96 high schools during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and found an average of five reported concussions per team. Long Island schools averaged 3.5 football concussions during the 2014 season, according to the documents obtained by Newsday.

    Dompier said all of the schools that took part in his study had athletic trainers.

    New York State’s concussion management act requires that coaches take an online concussion training course every two years. But an athletic trainer has a bachelor’s degree that includes concussion training. “The course that coaches take is just a skimming of the surface” of an athletic trainer’s background in concussion awareness, Cooper said.

    Nationwide, 70 percent of public high schools employ an athletic trainer part-time or full-time, according to a study by University of Connecticut researchers published this year.

    Schools without an athletic trainer rely on coaches or athletic directors to assess injuries, which the National Athletic Trainers Association said is a disservice to student athletes.

    “If coaches do recognize a medical emergency is present, they are not trained to treat potentially life-threatening conditions, nor should it be their responsibility to do so,” NATA said in a statement.

    Don Webster, the executive director of Section XI, estimated that 80 percent of Suffolk districts employ a trainer “in some capacity” — full-time or part-time — to assist with all athletics, not just football.

    Of Nassau’s 56 districts, 44 employ a trainer in some form, said Michael Spreckels, head trainer for the Seaford district and president of the Section VIII Athletic Trainers’ Society.

    Jay Hegi, head football coach in Elmont for 14 years and a coach for 31, remembers only one player ever suffering a concussion, and it was “13 or 14 years ago.” He thinks that’s because they focus on teaching the fundamentals of tackling, they do not hit much in practice and, he said, “a lot of it is luck.”

    Hegi said Elmont is one of the eight Nassau high schools that doesn’t have an athletic trainer, which he doesn’t think affects their concussion reporting.

    “A coach, if he’s been around the sport, he can tell if a kid is dizzy or not,” Hegi said. “I don’t think a trainer is going to make a difference. Me personally, I can tell. Obviously a trainer is more qualified, but I can tell when a kid is not standing up straight.”

    Elmont is one of five high schools in the Sewanhaka district. None employs an athletic trainer, Superintendent Ferrie said. He cited the expense as a factor and estimates that a full-time trainer at all five high schools would cost around $750,000.

    “If I didn’t have a budgetary cap placed on me, I would have an athletic trainer,” Ferrie said.

    Reaction around Long Island

    Long Island school administrators, athletic directors and football coaches ran the gamut in terms of knowledge and opinions regarding Virginia Tech’s ratings.

    Plainview JFK athletic director Joseph Braico said the ratings are “definitely a positive” because they give schools guidance on which helmets to consider. He said he’s been using them for three years.

    “We try to get only five-star helmets purchased here,” said Braico, a former football player at Division III Westfield State (Mass.). “That’s the transition we’ve been going with. All of our helmets are four or five stars, but anything we’ve purchased over the last three years have only been five stars.”

    Not everyone is a believer.

    Brentwood athletic director Kevin O’Reilly called it “a very weak survey.” He questioned the methods used by Virginia Tech to test the helmets.

    His school has 32 two-star helmets but he said he is not concerned about students wearing them because they have been reconditioned annually and meet the NOCSAE standard to be used during games and practices.

    “You can’t be like the pros and get top-of-the-line for everybody under the sun,” O’Reilly said.

    “But they are safe and they are meeting the standard set by NOCSAE. . . . What we do here, if they don’t meet the NOCSAE standard, which is the gold standard, then they’re not going to be in play. As long as it’s passing the NOCSAE standard, I’m perfectly fine with it.”

    The governing bodies of Suffolk and Nassau sports and the state athletic association do not offer recommendations regarding Virginia Tech’s ratings and allow the school districts to make their own decisions about which helmets to buy.

    Of Central Islip’s 62 helmets, 30 are either rated one- or two-star. In a statement, Central Islip Superintendent Craig Carr said every helmet purchased since 2012 has been rated five stars and that the district’s entire inventory gets reconditioned and recertified every year.

    The former high school football coaches who now act as the football coordinators for Nassau and Suffolk believe all helmets provide around the same level of concussion protection.

    “I believe you can put two good helmets together, no matter what their ratings are, and I don’t think there is any difference,” said Nassau coordinator Pat Pizzarelli, who retired this summer as Lawrence’s athletic director but remains the county’s football coordinator. He said he bases this opinion on conversations with doctors.

    He doesn’t believe schools should automatically remove one- and two-star helmets from use as long as they’ve been reconditioned regularly.

    Suffolk coordinator Tim Horan questions the Virginia Tech system because he said it doesn’t take the fit of the helmet into account. He said some makes and models fit a player’s head better than another make or model.

    Duma said Virginia Tech’s testing assumes a proper fit of the helmet.

    “I don’t think in today’s day and age, or right now today, that you can say this five-star helmet is a better helmet than a one- or two-star helmet,” said Horan, who also is the athletic director at West Islip, which has 18 two-star helmets and one one-star helmet (19 percent of its inventory).

    But Horan added that he believes in the system enough that since 2011 “we’ve been a lot more conscientious” about purchasing only four- and five-star helmets.

    Experts warn there will always be a risk of a concussion regardless of the helmet.

    Every football helmet is required to have a warning label that spells out the possibility of danger inherent to the game. Schutt takes its message about the possibility of brain and neck injury, paralysis and death one step further than its competitors.

    “To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football.”

    ‘If this was your son, which helmet would you want on his head?’

    Port Jefferson athletic director Debra Ferry learned of the Virginia Tech helmet ratings after Shoreham-Wading River high school player Thomas Cutinella died as the result of a helmet-to-helmet hit during a game last season.

    Ferry said she was spurred to take a closer look at her inventory. Any helmet that wasn’t rated five stars, she crossed off the list.

    Ferry planned to replace those helmets with five-star helmets, but then she asked herself this question: “If this was your son, which helmet would you want on his head?” She said she struggled with the thought of giving a brand-new helmet to one student and an older — but still highly rated — helmet to another student.

    She said she knew then the only option she was comfortable with was replacing Port Jefferson’s entire inventory with the best available helmets. Going that route is rare; schools typically buy about 10 new helmets per year at a cost of between $150 and $400 each.

    “If you’re going to provide our kids with the top of the line, then provide all our kids with top of the line,” she said. “It’s a difficult battle to fight as an athletic director at a school district to say, ‘We’re going to implement this process slowly’ when it comes to a kid’s safety.”

    She presented the information regarding the helmets, including pricing, to the Board of Education at a Dec. 9 meeting and was given the go-ahead.

    The next day, records show, she bought 50 five-star helmets for $14,749.

    At Oyster Bay, ‘a set of eyes that goes on every athlete’

    The Oyster Bay Board of Education debated and then voted on whether to eliminate the football program at an open meeting last December.

    Board member Michael Castellano, 54, a general surgeon, said his goal that day was to cancel the program because of the risk of significant injury.

    Two months before the vote, Shoreham-Wading River high school football player Thomas Cutinella died after a helmet-to-helmet hit on the field.

    “[Football is] a danger, with the injuries I see, the injuries I read about,” Castellano said. “I always thought it was hard to ethically pay for something that’s so dangerous to kids.”

    The board voted 5-1 in favor of keeping football. Castellano was the lone dissenter.

    “We listened to the community,” board member Jennifer Romeo said. “The community came forth and said they don’t want to stop football.”

    Castellano said he was satisfied that he at least spurred a conversation in his community about football’s injury risk.

    “I wanted to make sure everyone was aware how dangerous this sport is,” he said. “Some parents don’t realize how dangerous this sport is, what the long-term ramifications can be. I wanted to put it out there.”

    Out of the discussion came a promise to spend whatever was necessary to upgrade the team’s equipment — notably the helmets.

    The Riddell Insite is used to measure the impact of a hit during a game.

    In June, Oyster Bay purchased 85 five-star helmets from Riddell that feature a bendable forehead that is intended to absorb more impact. Inside those helmets are sensors that send a signal to a handheld device when a player receives a hit above a certain threshold of force.

    The total cost was $33,915, according to the purchase order obtained by Newsday through a Freedom of Information Law request. Riddell said Oyster Bay is the first school on Long Island outfitted with these sensors.

    “To me this gives us and our trainer a chance to look at all 11 players [on the field] at a given time — or all 80 or so athletes that are in our program at a given time — because they’re all going to be hooked into the system and hooked right up to the trainer,” athletic director Kevin Trentowski said. “It’s a set of eyes that goes on every athlete.”

    Two weeks into the regular season, Trentowski said the biggest impact of the sensors has been allowing the school’s athletic trainer to go to other sporting events as opposed to feeling obliged to be at all of the football practices. “When she returns back to the football site the helmets alert her to players worth checking on,” he said.

    Trentowski said the sensor has gone off “only a handful of times” and none of them have led to a player being diagnosed with a concussion.

    Hard Knocks: High school football helmets videos

    About this project

    On Long Island, there are 116 high schools with football programs.

    Beginning in April 2015, Newsday obtained current helmet inventories from the 107 public schools through Freedom of Information Law requests. Newsday requested the same information from the nine private schools, which are not required by law to oblige. Only Long Island Lutheran provided the inventory.

    Newsday also obtained concussion reporting from the 2014 football season from 102 public schools through FOIL requests. Five schools declined, citing student privacy laws. Newsday made the same request of the nine private schools. Only Long Island Lutheran and Bishop McGann-Mercy complied.

    Newsday compared the helmet inventories with safety ratings that Virginia Tech researchers have been publishing since 2011.

    This report is the result of a seven-month examination that included more than 80 interviews with neurologists, researchers, helmet manufacturers, Long Island superintendents, athletic directors, coaches, parents and players.

    ‘Where am I? What happened? Did I get hit?’

    Michael O’Donnell awakened the morning of Nov. 17, 2012, ready to play in one of the biggest football games of his varsity career. What he didn’t realize is that he had already played in that game the day before.

    “I woke up with a hospital bracelet on,” said O’Donnell, then the quarterback for Sachem North. “My first thought was, ‘All right, game day.’ I didn’t remember the game or that day in school.”

    O’Donnell didn’t remember the hits that sent him to the hospital with a concussion, he didn’t remember passing his driver’s test a few days before and he had no idea of the grueling months of recovery that were to come.

    His teammates came over that morning. “They were like, ‘You can watch the play if you want, but this will probably be the last time you watch TV for a while.’ ” he said.

    In the video, O’Donnell, then a junior starting in the county semifinal against William Floyd High School, drops back to pass, gets hit helmet to helmet and, as his body drops, he takes a knee to the head. Finally, his helmet rattles against the turf. He is near the 10-yard line and he’s not moving. He is unconscious for close to a minute.

    “Whenever he released the ball, as the quarterback, the first thing we looked to see was where the ball went and then we’d always look back to see where he was,” said his mother, Pam O’Donnell. “We looked back and I didn’t see him and there was a player on the ground. . . . He wasn’t moving and I knew it was my kid and I didn’t know what had happened.

    “It was the scariest moment of my life.”

    When O’Donnell regained consciousness, he was unsteady on his feet, but adamant he could continue playing. He walked to the wrong sideline and forgot which team Sachem North was playing. He shouted at his coaches to be put back in, “because I didn’t know what happened,” he said.

    Despite O’Donnell’s pleas to go back in, the team’s athletic trainer and coaching staff would not let him return.

    “He was insisting that he could go back in the game,” Pam O’Donnell said, “but the trainer knew right away that wasn’t going to happen.”

    Pam and her husband, Mike, took their son to St. Charles’ Hospital in Port Jefferson, where Michael was diagnosed with a concussion. There, he repeated the same questions: Where am I? What happened? Did I get hit? Who were we playing? Was it a run or a pass?

    “This went on for hours, literally hours,” Mike O’Donnell said.

    Though that night is a blank space in Michael’s memory, the concussion — the days of sensory deprivation, the school time missed and the endless doctor’s visits — would come to dominate his life for the five months it took him to recover. The headaches were constant, he said, and he had extreme sensitivity to light and noise. He was out of school for 3 1/2 to four months, according to his father.

    Michael, 19, now plays baseball for a club team at SUNY-Binghamton, where he is studying neuroscience. He doesn’t remember the helmet he was wearing and neither he nor his parents believe that different equipment would have made much of a difference.

    “I don’t know if a different helmet would have done anything,” Pam O’Donnell said.

    Michael returned to football his senior year and played safety. He said he doesn’t regret playing football.

    “You know the risk,” he said. “But it’s something you accept when you walk on the field and it’s nothing I had a problem doing.”

    Virginia Tech uses extensive testing to rate football helmets

    The idea behind the influential Virginia Tech football helmet ratings was born in 2009, said Stefan Duma.

    A biomedical engineering professor, Duma said he began testing how the brain performs during different impacts with sensors in the helmets of Virginia Tech football players in 2003. The team’s equipment manager who was in charge of buying the team new helmets called Duma in 2009 to see which model he should buy.

    Duma researched the topic and discovered there was no independently funded testing, only recommendations from the football helmet manufacturers themselves.

    Duma sought to change that.

    Using the data he had acquired from the helmet sensors, Duma spent the next two years devising a test to determine how well helmets reduce head acceleration within the helmet during an impact.

    Virginia Tech tests helmets by dropping them 120 times from predetermined heights to simulate the different forces of impacts that its research says a football player would expect to experience during a season.

    “The more acceleration you put into somebody’s head, the more you deform the brain and the more likely you’re going to have a brain injury,” Duma said. “So if we can bring brain acceleration down we can reduce the brain loading and we can reduce the risk.”

    When Virginia Tech released its first set of rankings in 2011, it was met with criticism by the helmet manufacturers, the national group that sets the standards for helmet manufacturers and some brain experts who said the ratings oversimplify the complicated science behind concussions.

    Schutt CEO Robert Erb, who lives in Manhasset, says the Virginia Tech rating system encourages helmet makers to produce five-star helmets that are bigger than older models, which theoretically make them larger targets for impacts and could also lead to more neck injuries.

    “Their answer to most of this is it’s better than nothing, but I’m not quite sure it’s true,” Erb said. “Obviously the greater offset a helmet has — that’s the distance from a skull to the exterior of the shell — the more energy can be managed. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into a better protective device.”

    Virginia Tech publishes its helmet ratings on its website and used to update it once a year. But Duma said manufacturers began producing new helmets at such a quick rate that now he updates the ratings whenever they test a new helmet.

    Virginia Tech says funding for the rating system comes from grants from the Department of Transportation, the Lewis Family Foundation, Toyota Motor Corp. and Virginia Tech’s Institute of Critical Technology and Applied Science and its Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics Department.

    “We have no financial ties to any manufacturer,” Duma said.

    Duma said it also is important to buy test helmets independently, so much so that he avoids buying them at the closest sporting goods store because “every company has Blacksburg, Virginia, marked on their map … You want to make sure you don’t get a doctored helmet.” So he set up “a friends and family network around the country” that purchases new helmets for him.

    Virginia Tech also has begun testing helmets in other sports. It released hockey helmet ratings in March, and Duma plans to do the same with baseball, softball, lacrosse, bicycle and youth football helmets over the next 10 years.

    Hard Knocks: Long Island high school football helmets

    Football tackle

    a Newsday/News 12 special report

    Hard Knocks Helmets and concussions on Long Island


    A typical high school football player takes roughly 650 hits to the head per season

    According to researchers at Michigan and Purdue

    At impacts equal to
    car crashes of 15 to 35 MPH
    According to Dr. Timothy Gay, University of Nebraska physics professor

    “It was the scariest moment of my life.” – Pam O’Donnell, on seeing her son, Sachem North QB Michael O’Donnell, motionless on the field after suffering a concussion in a 2012 game.

    Experts say the
    football helmet is the last line of defense

    to protect players from head injuries.

    AIR FLOWHoles in the helmet’s shell allow for better air flow to allow for heat to escape.

    SHELLA helmet’s shell is typically made of polycarbonate to best handle the force of an impact.

    PADDINGPadding cushions the head on impact and decreases head acceleration. Each manufacturer uses different material.

    CHINSTRAPKeeping the chinstrap tight is important for securing a helmet’s proper fit on the athlete’s head.

    FACEMASKDifferent positions tend to use different style facemasks for better visibility.

    CHIN CUPThe chin cup should be firmly placed on a player’s chin when it’s strapped to the helmet.

    AIR FLOWHoles in the helmet’s shell allow for better air flow to allow for heat to escape.

    SNAP BUCKLEThe chin strap is secured by a snap clip so players can easily get in and out of their helmet.

    FACEMASK CLIPA facemask is screwed into the helmet so that it remains tight.

    CHINSTRAPKeeping the chinstrap tight is important for securing a helmet’s proper fit on the athlete’s head.

    SHELLA helmet’s shell is typically made of polycarbonate to best handle the force of an impact.

    AIR FLOWHoles in the helmet’s shell allow for better air flow to allow for heat to escape.

    SNAP BUCKLEThe chin strap is secured by a snap clip so players can easily get in and out of their helmet.

    FACEMASK CLIPA facemask is screwed into the helmet so that it remains tight.

    CHINSTRAPKeeping the chinstrap tight is important for securing a helmet’s proper fit on the athlete’s head.

    SHELLA helmet’s shell is typically made of polycarbonate to best handle the force of an impact.

    SHELLA helmet’s shell is typically made of polycarbonate to best handle the force of an impact.

    AIR FLOWHoles in the helmet’s shell allow for better air flow to allow for heat to escape.


      Virginia Tech helmet ratings

      Virginia Tech researchers
      have developed a
      5-star helmet rating system
      that has become the industry standard.

      A Newsday examination found Long Island high schools have at least 885 1-star and 2-star helmets in circulation.

      Experts call these “low performers” at reducing the risk of concussion.

      Search your school’s helmets


        5-star helmets are considered
        the best at reducing head acceleration within the helmet on impact.

        Riddell VSR4 helmet
        Riddell VSR4Riddell says this helmet, introduced in 1992, “was the most advanced helmet in the marketplace for many years.” With foam padding on the interior, this was the most common helmet worn in the NFL as recently as 2010. Riddell discontinued sales in May 2011, the same month Virginia Tech released its ratings. There are 343 in circulation on Long Island.

        Schutt Air Advantage helmet
        Schutt Air AdvantageIntroduced in 2001, it was designed to be lighter and had a smaller outer shell than most helmets. Helmet designs since have become larger, often with more room for padding on the inside, to better manage energy. Schutt says it discontinued this helmet in 2011. There are 542 in circulation on Long Island.

        Schutt DNA Pro+This helmet’s shell is slightly smaller and therefore does not manage energy on low-impact hits as well as its others in Virginia Tech’s testing, Schutt says. This helmet is the third generation of a model released in 2003. Schutt stopped manufacturing this model last month. There are 666 in circulation on Long Island.

        Riddell RevolutionRiddell says this was the first helmet designed to reduce concussions. Introduced in 2002, its polycarbonate shell is wider and extended further along the jaw line than its predecessors. Riddell said last month it will no longer manufacture this helmet. There are 3,028 in circulation on Long Island.

        Riddell SpeedFlexIntroduced last year, the SpeedFlex features flexibility in certain portions of the helmet’s shell and facemask, which Riddell says reduces impact force transfer to the athlete. There are 154 in circulation on Long Island.

        Flip helmets

        All major helmet manufacturers make 4-star and 5-star helmets.

        “The difference between the top and the bottom is dramatic…” – Stefan Duma, Virginia Tech

        There was a 54% reduction in concussions

        among players wearing a 4-star helmet compared with those wearing a 1-star helmet, a separate six-year study found.

          In 2014, a Shoreham-Wading River junior died after a helmet-to-helmet hit.

          In response, Port Jefferson replaced its helmets by buying
          50 new 5-star helmets for $14,749

          “If this was your son, which helmet would you want on his head?” – Port Jefferson athletic director Debra Ferry

          Schools typically purchase about 10 new helmets per year ranging in cost from $150 to $400.

          Oyster Bay bought 85 5-star helmets equipped with sensors for $33,915

          Oyster Bay is the first school on Long Island to wear these helmets that signal when a player receives a hit above a certain threshold.

          Regardless of which helmet a player is wearing, concussions remain a part of the game.

          “I don’t know if a different helmet would have done anything.” – Pam O’Donnell

          But many experts believe better helmets can help.

          “I would not put my kid in one of those 1-star helmets.” – Kevin Guskiewicz, a member of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee

          Just as safety testing changed how the auto industry made cars, Virginia Tech researchers changed how football helmets are made.

          1-star and 2-star helmets have not been manufactured since 2011.

          Another 408
          of the 9,502 helmets are not rated.

          Unrated helmets are more than 5 years old and no longer being manufactured.

          On Long Island, 60 schools have 1-star and/or 2-star helmets in inventory.

          27 schools only have
          4-star and 5-star helmets.

          Expand Chart

          On Long Island, there were 364 reported concussions

          in football among districts covering 90 high schools in 2014.

          “It felt like my brain was rebooting…” – Yusuf Young, former Roosevelt linebacker

          high schools reported no concussions in football.

          “Statistically it would be pretty unusual to have 14 schools not report any concussions over one season.” – Kenneth Perrine, a neuropsychologist

          While better helmets can help, they do not guarantee a player won’t suffer a concussion.

          No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death. To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport football.

          “If you want to avoid the possibility of a concussion, you probably shouldn’t be playing the game of football.” – Robert Erb, Schutt CEO

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