Football Helmets Among Equipment Being Tested During Maintenance Season

February 03, 2014

(Photo courtesy of Sunvalco Athletic)
Football helmets racked in Sunvalco's reconditioning facliity.
(Photo courtesy of Sunvalco Athletic)
A football helmet is tested to see if it can withstand force without damage.
(Photo courtesy of Sunvalco Athletic)
Sunvalco employees put helmets back together after reconditioning.
(Photo courtesy of Sunvalco Athletic)
Sunvalco employees buff helmets to remove dirt, paint and other stains.
(Photo by Alexandra Olgin-KJZZ)
The Sunvalco Athletic store and reconditioning facility in Phoenix.

The Super Bowl marks the end of the football season, and now it is equipment maintenance season. Across the country helmets and equipment are being reconditioned, tested, cleaned and stored. Inside the only reconditioning facility in Arizona to show how it is working to help prevent head injuries. 

Football helmets come in from all over the state and country to get reconditioned and recertified at Sunvalco Athletic. A warehouse behind the retail store is filled with boxes, bags, racks and tubs of helmets. The first part of reconditioning is evaluating the incoming equipment.

 “Once the helmets are unloaded they are racked, such as right behind me here. They are inventoried by model and by manufacturer," said Gary Markichevich.

Markichevich and his brother Larry own Sunvalco.

“Helmets come over here for what we call breakdown. All the faceguard, all the hardware is removed. They are specifically paying attention to cracks a reason for rejection," said Gary Markichevich.

Helmets are buffed to remove all labels, scuffs and so called "war marks." They are then washed and painted.

“Helmet components are replaced at this time as needed," said Gary Markichevich.

He said 20,000 helmets come through Sunvalco each year for reconditioning. 1,600 of those are rejected due to damage or age. The National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association said that is only 40 percent of the helmets out there. University of North Carolina research estimates there were 4.2 million football players in 2012 from Pop Warner to professional.

Gary Markichevich said the process costs around $30 per helmet. That may sound expensive, but it is cheaper than buying a new one, which can range from $160 to $400. Larry Maddux of Schutt Sports said the helmets are so expensive because…

 "We are constantly looking at new materials and one of the goals is to get same protection if not better and to also lighten the product," said Maddux.

Current helmet models range between three and five pounds. Keeping players safe is not about the product, according to Mike Oliver of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment or NOCSAE for short.

“Parents, players, media, coaches whatever focus so much attention on helmet. It creates a real opportunity for parents to say, 'Okay I’ve got that helmet,'" said Oliver. "'I’ve done my job. My kid's protected, I don’t have to worry about it anymore.' Which is not true," said Oliver.

He said preventing injury is a combination of equipment, physiology, awareness and the style of play. Gary Markichevich said outside sources are playing a bigger role in high school sports since budgets have been cut.

“A lot of programs have very influential and affluent booster clubs. That’s why you see high schools with three different sets of helmets," said Larry Markichevich.

Now back to the warehouse, where Gary is testing the sampling of helmets picked out earlier. The drop test is done in a room the size of a closet. He rigs up the machine holding a helmet with a mannequin head inside.

Gary uses a computer system to regulate and record testing results. Then, he presses a button and the helmet is dropped from five feet onto a circular pad that measures the force a helmet can withstand without damage. The last part of the process is the final inspection and labeling.

“Well there is a recertification label, warning labels, there is the NOCSAE recertified label, We actually even have a by month recertification label that goes in the interior, size labels, the initial season label," said Gary Markichevich. 

NOCSAE recommends equipment get reconditioned and recertified every year, but there is no legal requirement. If helmets pass the drop test and reconditioning, they are then shipped back to the teams. Larry Markichevich said although the process is thorough, there are no guarantees the equpiment can prevent injuries.

“It’s not bulletproof it’s not an insurance policy but it’s a maintenance program that keeps their helmet up to snuff according to standards," said Larry Markichevich.

Current testing standards only account for linear forces or direct hits. NOCSAE is in the process of changing the testing to measure the impact of rotational forces. Those kinds of hits can cause the brain to turn inside the skull. This can lead to internal injuries that put pressure on the brain.

The revised testing standard will be voted on at the committee’s next meeting in June.

See the testing process in a video below.