The Hewlett-Woodmere school district bought 125 new five-star helmets hours after reading the Newsday/News 12 story on Oct. 7 about head safety in high school football, Superintendent Ralph Marino Jr. said Thursday.
Marino said the new Schutt helmets arrived early Saturday morning, just in time for Hewlett's varsity players to wear them before their homecoming game that afternoon. The helmets also will be worn by junior varsity and middle school football players, he said.
"Health and safety is a priority for us," Marino said. "We believed we were doing the right thing in terms of the annual testing, the inspection and discarding the old ones and buying the replacements. But with . . . [the Newsday/News 12] story and doing the research into what Virginia Tech is doing, we knew what we had to do. We want the very best for our students."
He said the cost was just below $30,000 and that the district had to make some "budget transfers" to allow for the unplanned purchase. In May, residents in the Hewlett-Woodmere district approved a $113,628,101 budget for the 2015-16 school year, a 1.49 percent increase over the previous year.
Virginia Tech researchers have been publishing helmet safety ratings since 2011. The testing rates helmets on their ability to reduce head acceleration within the helmet on impact. A five-star helmet is deemed best at reducing the risk of concussion; a one-star helmet is the least effective.
As part of a Newsday/News 12 special report on helmets and concussions on Long Island, Newsday obtained the helmet inventories for 108 of the 116 Long Island high schools with a football program. The seven-month examination found that 885 helmets in circulation were rated as one- and two-star helmets, which are considered "low performers" by Virginia Tech.
Hewlett High School's inventory contained 27 one- and two-star helmets. The school had four four-star helmets, 10 three-star helmets and 35 helmets that had no rating at all. The school did not have any five-star helmets.
"[The Newsday/News 12] article gave us new information," Marino said. "[It] gave us research that we looked into and that was the direction we wanted to go."
In the wake of the report, Marino said the district chose to purchase Schutt's Vengeance VTD II model, which received the top rating by Virginia Tech. He said the model's top billing played a role in the district's decision-making.
"We wanted to make sure we had the very best," he said, "and we had them in time for homecoming."
After the decision was made, Marino said all of the varsity, junior varsity and middle school players were measured for the new helmets on the afternoon of Oct. 7, a Wednesday. "We got the order in very late Wednesday night," he said.
Kelly McMahon, president of the Hewlett Football Parents Association, said she received a phone call that afternoon informing her of the district's plans.
She said Thursday she wasn't surprised by the district's "proactive" response. "Once they read the story, they felt it was an issue that needed to be addressed," she said. "And they handled it immediately."
The high school players returned early on Saturday to receive their helmets and have them properly fitted, Marino said.
Hewlett's helmets used to be silver, but their new helmets are white. Marino said he was more concerned with getting the new helmets to his players than the color. Plus, he said, the white helmets look fine for now.
McMahon said her son, Wyatt, who is a junior tight end, described the new helmets as "comfortable."
Marino also said the district plans to buy sensors to be retrofitted into each player's helmet.
The sensors, Schutt spokesman Glenn Beckmann said, are "capable of measuring hits and impacts."
Oyster Bay High School is the only team on Long Island using the sensors. In June, the school spent $33,915 on 85 new five-star helmets in response to Shoreham-Wading River junior Thomas Cutinella's death after a helmet-to-helmet hit during a game last season.
Port Jefferson also replaced its entire helmet inventory after Cutinella's death, spending $14,749 on 50 new five-star helmets in December.
In the weeks leading up to the Newsday/News 12 report, 23 schools said they would either remove their one- and two-star helmets or not give them out.
Marino, who became superintendent on July 1, said the decision to buy new helmets affirms the district's dedication to keep athletes safe.
"You can just tell by our reaction to it," he said. "Once we found out about the Virginia Tech study we took action. Up until that point, we had no reason to doubt what we were doing."