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Today’s safest football helmet unattainable for some youth

Updated Sept. 6, 2019 with statement from helmet maker

EVERETT — When 125 Everett Junior Wildcats players kicked off the youth football season recently, most wore the safest helmets money can buy.
The Junior Wildcats are one of five youth football organizations in 2019 offering Vicis helmets — the top performer in national safety tests — for every player.
Vicis (pronounced like the plural of vice) is a Seattle company renowned for its revolutionary technology.
Its Zero1 Youth helmet has an outer shell designed to absorb impact like a car bumper. An array of interior pads can be configured to custom-fit any head.
The Zero1 Youth earned a five-star rating in 2019 and had the best safety score in the history of annual testing at the Virginia Tech University Helmet Lab. Only drawback: it retails for $495.
That price tag didn’t faze Rex Lewandowski.
“Player health is our highest priority,” said the Junior Wildcats founder and president. “We want to provide the best safety equipment we can.”
In the wake of growing concussion concerns, other area leagues are also stepping up efforts to protect players’ brains.
The Snohomish Junior Panthers use Guardian Caps, a padded, soft-shell cover worn over the helmet during practices to cushion the force of blows.
So does the Glacier Peak Youth Football Association, as well as the Glacier Peak High School football team.
But cost is one steep deterrent for officials of most leagues and schools. They view Vicis helmets like organic vegetables: undeniably healthier, yet too expensive for the average shopper.

Adam Worcester photo

A player is fitted with a Vicis Zero1 Youth helmet at an
Everett Junior Wildcats practice session in August.

“Currently all of our high schools use Riddell SpeedFlex helmets. These helmets have been tested by Virginia Tech University and have earned a 5 star rating,” e-mailed Robert Polk, the director of athletics for the Everett School District.
“With Vicis helmets costing twice as much as the Riddell helmets, the schools in Everett are not in a position to purchase these.”
Vicis’ high school helmet, the Zero1 Varsity, retails for $950. It was beaten for the top Virginia Tech safety score this year by the new Schutt FC7 LTD helmet, which retails for $975.
The equivalent-level SpeedFlex retails for $410.
Individual players are free to buy Vicis helmets, of course. And many do. Regulations allow using the helmets in league games.
Mark Leone, head coach at Everett’s Archbishop Murphy High School, said 20 players on this year’s team own Vicis helmets.
Families have to pay for the helmets, however, on top of regular school or league registration fees.
Everett public high schools charge $100 per sport and require each athlete to buy an ASB card. Youth football fees range from $200 to $400 per season, depending on age.
So high schools turn to football booster clubs — nonprofit organizations run by parent volunteers — to fund extra frills for the entire team.
Money for the Guardian Caps at Glacier Peak, for instance, came through donations to the “fund a need” project at the Football Booster Club’s annual auction.
But Guardian Caps retail for $60 apiece. Providing Vicis helmets to 50 or so players in a high school program, or 100-plus in a youth football program, presents a much more daunting challenge costing thousands of dollars.  
Youth football leagues, lacking booster clubs, have to milk players and parents to raise any money beyond standard fees.
The Ballard Knights youth league tried crowdsourcing this year to help fund Vicis helmets for all its players.
The Junior Wildcats purchased helmets wholesale, then offered parents the option of buying a Vicis Zero1 for $400 or renting the helmet for a one-time fee of $250.
Samantha Dixon chose to purchase. She has a son on the Wildcats’ Pee Wee team. He’s in his fourth year with the program.
“The nice thing about Vicis is they made sure it was fit perfectly for his head,” she said. “It really is a customized program.”
Vicis does not claim that its helmets prevent concussions. Multiple attempts to interview Vicis to discuss its helmets for this story were unsuccessful.
But the Junior Wildcats’ Lewandowski thinks they make a difference.
“If it lessens impact every time there’s a little bit of head contact or a tackle, that means less blows to the head,” he said. “The less hits you take throughout your career, the better off you’re going to be.”
For most Junior Wildcat parents, Lewandowski said the new helmets aren’t a tough sell.
“It’s $400 at the end of the day, or four payments of $100, and your son has a good piece of equipment,” he said. “Our organization feels Vicis has really taken technology to the next level.”

Update Sept. 6, 2019:

On Sept. 4, VICIS provided a statement on the price of its helmets:

"Our prices are always going to be more than the competition because we have so much more engineering and R&D in them. But our focus remains on protecting as many kids as we can with our top-rated helmet and offering a variety of ways to make that possible for all players, parents and coaches," said Brian Matakis, VICIS VP of Marketing.


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