Safety is a hot topic in sports today.
And as the football authority in the state of Indiana, the Indianapolis Colts want to help make the game safer for everyone – starting with young players.
On Wednesday, the Colts partnered with UnitedHealthcare, Xenith, and USA Football to host 16 high school football teams at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center for the second annual HELMETS sweepstakes.
“We’re here to bring awareness to safety in school sports here in Indiana. And that’s what the HELMETS program is all about. It’s about raising awareness around safety,” said Dan Krajnovich, President and CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Indiana.
It started with a USA Football clinic run by trainer and coach Jim Hamilton. The players got a hands-on lesson learning the fundamentals of Heads Up Football.
Hamilton got involved with USA Football to give back to the game. He said the more he saw what they were doing, the more he liked it.
“It’s not just about concussions, it’s education, it’s heat and hydration, it’s sudden cardiac arrest, it’s equipment vetting and proper fitting to not eliminate, but reduce injuries.”
“That’s really how you’re going to make the game safer, is equipment and technique,” said former Colts offensive lineman Ryan Diem. “The technique in the past was probably just hit the guy harder. It’s really changed.”
Speaking on a panel discussion about football safety, Diem said the game has changed even since he retired in 2012.
“I get to help out with some high school teams, I’m helping out with Zionsville High School right now a couple days a week, just to be around it, keep my hands in the game a little bit,” he said. “I also get the chance to train some elite college players who are about to make the leap to the next level and to work with them is really cool, too. They teach me as much as I teach them. I get to see what they’re learning these days and how it’s changing. And it is evolving.”
One of the areas quickly evolving is helmet technology.
“A typical helmet, your head has to fit into the helmet. These helmets basically give you a custom fit, no matter what the shape of your head is,” said Kip Lewis from Xenith. “The typical helmet, because the pads are connected or glued into the inside of the shell, as soon as you get hit, your head moves.”
Xenith’s latest helmet has a built-in suspension system that works independently from the shell to minimize impact.
“It’s like being in your car riding around. Imagine being in your car without shock absorbers,” Lewis said. “And then, get in a car with shock absorbers and ride over some bumps. That’s kind of the difference in this helmet and a lot of other helmets.”
The teams in attendance were certified in Heads Up Football, nominated for the HELMETS sweepstakes by someone in their community, and their fans voted them into the finals.
At the end of the day, a drawing was held that sent every team home with either $1,000, $3,000, $4,000, or $6,000 for their programs. And two lucky schools left with $25,000 to outfit their team with new Xenith helmets.
“We’re a smaller school, a 2A school,” said Nate Brown, assistant coach at Eastbrook High School. “This is huge for us. The ability to be able to go out and get these new helmets, as a smaller school with a budget – we were in the six to eight new helmet range.”
“That will go a long way,” said David Bradford, athletic director at Anderson Preparatory Academy. “Helmets are expensive, but for a school our size being 1A, that will take care of every kid that we have and we’ll have a few extra, I’m sure.”
And everyone walked away feeling good about improving the safety of a game that means so much to so many.
“I’m biased, but I think it’s the best team sport there is. It teaches you so much about teamwork and being a role player and leadership, just being responsible and discipline for yourself,” said Diem. “So, anything we can do to help promote safety in the sport, I would love to get behind.”
It takes teamwork to win in football.
And it takes teamwork to make football a better, safer game for all.