The world’s largest producer of football helmets and faceguards is challenging the authenticity of Virginia Tech University’s STAR rating system, something that could have a major impact on how headgear is evaluated for safety purposes.

Schutt Sports, which has a manufacturing facility in Salem, is alleging that the Virginia Tech did not take into consideration a “multitude of significant factors” when evaluating the performance of helmets and could result in parents, players and coaches getting a false sense of security.

“Virginia Tech did not test current helmets for this study,” said Schutt Sports CEO Robert Erb in a press release. “They used data from the testing of helmets over two years ago. The fact that they did this study with two-year-old data and grouped it together with new test data is concerning.”

A sampling of Southern Illinois high school football teams shows that brand loyalty is alive and well in the region when it comes to helmet makers. Some believe in Schutt, while others stick with the NFL’s sponsor in Riddell. Even more have a mixture of brands and styles.

“We’ve had Riddells before and I just like the Schutt helmet,” said Vienna-Goreville coach Mike Rude, whose program uses the Schutt brand exclusively. “I did read some of the tests that were done and thought they were very satisfactory.”

Schutt Sports has pointed out what it believes are 12 indicators showing the Virginia Tech study did not give a true indication of the STAR system, which gives helmets a star rating for safety with the highest being five stars.

Among the indicators is that Virginia Tech tested all of its helmets at 72 degrees with fixed humidity. In Southern Illinois, game-time weather like that doesn’t occur until almost two months into the season.

Another issue is that the study measured only linear force and didn’t take rotational force of impact into consideration.

“What scares me the most is that some school districts are now using the Virginia Tech study to determine which helmets they buy,” Erb said. “They may be buying helmets based on a flawed testing methodology.”

The IHSA, following the lead of the National Federation of State High School Associations, passed a new rule in 2011 that all helmets 10 years old or older must be recycled out of the program starting this season. Another new rule for 2012 is that if a player’s helmet comes off during play, regardless of contact, that player must sit out the next play.

“Technology has come a long way and I think the kids are a lot safer,” Rude said. “From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, there was a lot of spearing going on, and I think the rules have changed where the kids use the helmet as less of a weapon.”

Personal preference, for both players and coaches, has a part in helmet selection as well. Anna-Jonesboro coach Brett Detering said roughly a third of his players wear Schutt helmets, but the program is gradually shifting toward Riddell.

“There’s certainly positives on both sides,” Detering said. “Riddell seems to be a little bit better fit and has fewer parts.”

But there are others, like Murphysboro coach Gary Carter, who strongly endorse the Schutt brand.

“I think every coach is going to have a preference to what they like,” Carter said. “Sometimes, you buy the salesman and not just the helmet. I have people I deal with that I’m loyal to and I trust them.”

On Twitter: @PeteTheSouthern

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