CHICAGO — With the summer practice session for football season just weeks away, some Chicago Public High School coaches are concerned about the quality of equipment that will be available to players because of a system-wide budget crunch.
At Sullivan High School, football coach Calvin Clark said the football equipment at Sullivan wasn't safe to use and the Rogers Park school was forced to use a GoFundMe account to raise $8,500 to buy replacements.
CPS should be providing the newest equipment, says Clark, but too often his football program is sacked for a loss when it comes to funding, he said.
"In a typical world that happens, but CPS not having any money is what they say," Clark said. "Out of all sports, football costs the most money. We were on a freeze. The school is doing the best they can."
Clark said some of the school's shoulder pads were 15 to 20 years old.
According to Riddell, the equipment vendor contracted by the CPS, the certification process for football equipment involves the cleaning, sanitization, buffing, painting (or re-painting), inspection, repair and the certification by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).
Kimberly Archie, the founder of the National Cheer Safety Foundation, and a legal consultant on cases involving football-related head injuries, said there's too much gray area involved in the regulation of football equipment.
"The organization who re-certifies football helmets is just the manufacturer," she said. "If you're a parent and you see the recertification label on the helmet, you're thinking some big group is saying the stuff is right but that's false advertisement," Archie said.
The NOCSAE says that the recertification of football equipment doesn't necessarily guarantee concussions from happening.
A CPS spokesman told DNAinfo that older football helmets that have been reconditioned to meet safety standards are safe for use, and the age of a helmet is less important than how recently it was reconditioned.
Michael Passman, a CPS spokesman, said the district "requires schools to recondition football helmets every two years to help ensure helmets are fit for student use and in compliance with IHSA safety regulations."
Passman added that "due to the district's difficult financial situation, CPS is not able to fund new football equipment for all schools, but CPS policy prohibits schools from allowing students to play football without a certified helmet."
Craig Anderson, the executive director of the Illinois High School Association, says the rules say that "once a football helmet is 10 years old, it no longer has any life and it needs to be thrown away."
"For shoulder pads, if they aren't good in any way, it is up to the school and the coach. If they are outdated, we would notify the school administration to investigate," Anderson said.
Anderson said using outdated equipment has never resulted in a suspension or fine.
"We would work with the school in order to align the situation to our rules," he said.
Dana Robinson, who previously coached at Morgan Park and Harlan, says he saw players using what he considered outdated equipment "especially at the lower level." Many schools, he said, when it comes to ensuring equipment safety "don't take it seriously or have a professional approach."
Lonnie Williams, who was the football coach at King College Prep for 44 years until he retired last year, echoes Robinson's charges regarding football equipment.
"Sometimes, the budget at these schools are really small. You have to find a way to update it," Williams said. "I didn't have that many kids so I tried to make do with what we had. Many schools don't even want football anymore. Many principals don't want it."
CPS officials "just don't put any money into these programs," Williams said. "There's no positive way to look at this. It's sad but it's true."
In the past year, Chicago Tech Academy, Baker College Prep and Simeon have used GoFundMe accounts to raise money for their football programs.
Jaton Jackson, a regional athletic director with CPS who oversees football, says this is the first time he has heard about outdated football equipment.
"I have no comment since this wasn't brought to me by a coach or an administrator," he said when asked about it by a reporter. "It is up to the schools and the coaches to tell us about an equipment issue. Equipment is a school issue."
Jackson told DNAinfo that he was going to look into the allegations made by Clark and Williams.
CPS would not let schools participate in games until certified helmets were obtained in order to be compliant with safety standards, officials said.
Mike Glasser, a concerned resident who helped Sullivan through a fundraiser, said, "the Rogers Park community supports Sullivan."
"The kids need to have meaningful extracurricular activities. This funding issue isn't going away," Glasser said.
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