CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Helmets are arguably the most important piece of football equipment.
So, when football teams across country are dealing with a severe lack of them, it an added stress on coaches and players who are attempting to get ready for the upcoming football season.
That’s the case for many teams in West Virginia.
“It’s just an issue that you didn’t think you were going to have to have,” said Lewis County head coach, Dustin Cogar. “A helmet shortage, a shoulder pad shortage. It’s got a lot of guys calling around.”
The Problem at Hand
Football teams which use helmets made by Riddell and Schutt – the two most-used brands of helmets in football – could be waiting until October to receive their orders, according to some coaches.
“We fitted equipment, and we knew we were going to have to order helmets. So we did that, and we were told ‘We think you’ll get your helmets no problem.’ And now they tell us they’ve had a fire in the processing plants. (They) haven’t given us an estimation date on when the helmets are going to come in.”Morgantown head coach, Sean Biser
Both Morgantown area high schools, Morgantown and University, are waiting for helmets.
University head coach, John Kelley, says that he’s still roughly six helmets short of having one for every player. And that’s with the hope that the helmets on the way all fit correctly when they arrive.
Kelley says the Hawks mainly use helmets from Riddell, but have also tried reaching out to Schutt to see if they could get helmets quicker that way.
12 Sports reached out to Riddell for comment on the nation-wide helmet shortage.
In response, Riddell sent the following statement:
Riddell, like most industries, is experiencing supply chain and materials challenges due to the ongoing pandemic. Additionally, a supplier of Riddell football helmet components recently experienced a catastrophic fire. As a result, production of select Riddell football helmets is limited, and delivery timelines will be impacted. Riddell is working fast to review all existing orders and communicate with customers individually regarding their situation. In most cases, we expect existing helmet orders to arrive for use during the fall season; however, they may deliver to our customers later than requested. Riddell is committed to navigating our way through these unanticipated situations as advancing athlete protection remains our top priority as we head into the upcoming season.Riddell Response to Inquiry Regarding Helmet Delivery Timing via Riddell VP of Marketing & Communications
One Player, One Helmet, that’s the ‘rule’
Although there isn’t a true rule that requires each player have his/her own helmet, all coaches know it to be the case.
Aside from the current health and safety concerns surrounding COVID-19, helmets are expected to be reconditioned, certified, and fitted each year for each player in attempt to have the helmet protect each player most-effectively.
Therefore, players are unable to share helmets, meaning that a player who currently doesn’t have one could be looking at missing valuable practice time and/or games.
This problem isn’t just helmets, either. Shoulder pads are also a hot commodity at the moment, due orders of pads not arriving as well.
For teams will smaller rosters, this hasn’t been too big of an issue. But for teams with larger rosters, such as Morgantown with roughly 120 players out for football this year, it’s now a big problem.
Buckhannon-Upshur High School is another team dealing with this shortage.
The Buccaneers are awaiting helmets made by Schutt, and have been told that it will likely be at least four more weeks until they get the helmets they need. That’s both for new helmets, and ones that were sent to be reconditioned.
New head coach, Zach Davis, says he was told that Schutt has stopped taking large orders.
Other teams waiting on Schutt helmets have been told similar things, and might not get their order until midway through the season.
Lewis County got creative, and went to the one place that seemingly has everything — Amazon. Cogar says his team was a couple helmets short, but they found the few they needed on Amazon.com.
Youth teams also affected
This isn’t just affecting high school teams, either.
Zach Cook, who has helped start a new youth football team within the Morgantown area, told 12 Sports via Twitter that he and his team are still waiting on more than 50 helmets from Schutt.
According to Cook, his team’s order was placed in May and was scheduled to be delivered in July.
However, practices started on Monday Aug. 2, and the helmets have still not arrived. Cook says his Morgantown Youth Mohigans are scheduled to scrimmage an opposing team in two weeks, but practically every kid on the team would be helmet-less entering the game.
Cook says he’s attempted to reach out to Schutt in multiple different ways and hasn’t gotten an answer.
Sales representatives — the go-between in many cases between teams and equipment companies — also have been largely without answers, according to multiple coaches we’ve spoken with.
“What they need with, we’ll help out with,” — Dustin Cogar.
Luckily, as is the West Virginia way, teams have been helping one another.
“So what we’ve tried to do is use our resources, contact our coaching friends that may not have the numbers that we have this year, and try to borrow helmets. … The coaching community is pretty awesome. We’re pretty close knit. We use our contacts. That’s the process we’re going through right now trying to make it work for us. We may not be wearing white helmets, but we’ll all have helmets on, and our kids will at least be able to play. At least until our shipment comes in.”Sean Biser
Davis spoke with 12 Sports while he was en route to Parkersburg Catholic High School, which was supplying him with three of the large helmets he needed.
Doddridge County head coach, Bobby Burnside, says that his team was able to supply a team out of the Eastern Panhandle with a couple of the helmets that school needed.
Coaches have been contacting other coaches relentlessly hoping to find an extra helmet here or there.
“It’s all about getting kids on the field right now and giving them a season that they deserve,” said Cogar. “When you’re out there on Friday night, everybody’s battling, but everyone’s battling the same thing throughout the week. So, it’s just helping each other out, and the Big 10 (Conference) is good about that.”
The first games of the high school football season are scheduled for Aug. 26 and 27. That’s less than three full weeks from the publication of this story.
Hope remains that teams can find the necessary helmets and equipment they need for everyone to suit up on Thursday and Friday nights.
As the coaches we’ve spoken to have alluded, this issue will bring the coaching community together.
After a season full of sacrifices and bad breaks in 2020, football coaches everywhere were hoping for a return to normal this season.
A nation-wide helmet shortage and back log may be standing in the way of normalcy, but coaches who were on the sidelines last season know how to roll with the punches, and take it one thing at a time.
Biser said just as much, “Kind of like last year, just control what we can control. And we’re kind of doing the same thing right now. We’re just trying to have a plan to overcome the adversity that’s been thrown at us.”