Science fair project tests helmet safety

The science fair at Cortez Middle School on Thursday. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

The science fair at Cortez Middle School on Thursday.

A Cortez middle school football player tackled concussions at the science fair Thursday and investigated how well the schools’ helmets were protecting his team.

Kale Hall was one of 170 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades who participated in the fair.

Hall, a seventh-grader, found the schools’ brand of helmet was exposing player’s heads to more force than the outside of the helmet was experiencing.

He tested three brands of helmets and filled each with a plastic skull filled with sand to represent the weight of a brain. He attached sensors inside the helmet and outside the helmet and dropped the helmet on the ground to test the force inside and outside the helmet.

Hall was inspired to do the experiment after members of his football team received concussions this fall. Athletic Director Glenn Smith said there were three documented concussions during the last season.

Locally, coaches and other staff members attend an annual training on head injuries, Smith said.

“Kids are trained how to hit, how to play clean football and that decreases the number of injuries,” he said.

All the school’s helmets are also sent for reconditioning each year, and the padding is replaced if necessary.

Nationally, football-related concussions have become a hot topic in recent years and the subject of extensive research.

Professor Tim McGuine, a lead researcher at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health, said Hall’s methods were similar to those used to test helmets in a lab.

McGuine recently took his experiment to Wisconsin fields and tracked about 2,288 high school players during two seasons. He found a helmet’s brand and age did not a make a difference at preventing concussions.

He said football helmets are specifically designed to prevent skull fractures.

“Skull fractures don’t happen, so the helmets really do a very good job,” he said

But a helmet can’t prevent the brain from moving around inside the skull during a collision, and that is what causes a concussion. He likened the brain to a yoke inside an egg. The yoke will move if the egg is shaken, whether the outside is wrapped in foam or not.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 25,000 football players under 19 years old suffer traumatic brain injury. A concussion is a mild form of a traumatic brain injury.

Hall’s research and experiment did not scare him away from the sport, and he plans to play next season.

“It’s one of my favorite sports ever,” he said.

After tying for second overall at the fair, he will also be accompanying between 40 to 50 of his peers, ranked by the highest overall scores, to the regional competition in March at the La Plata county Fairgrounds.

Cassidy Livengood and Shaylin Smith won first for their project called conservation frustration.