Special Report: The Dangers of the Football Helmet


Frank Orgel

ALBANY, GA (WALB) – Frank Orgel didn’t always have to use a wheelchair and struggled with having paralysis on the left side of his body associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as the disease of Lou Gehrig or ALS.

The 76-year-old Albany native was once the defensive coordinator for Auburn University’s football program.

“That’s the Sugar Bowl trophy right there.. we beat Michigan when I was here,” he said, pointing to a large, shiny solid silver cup.

Before being a coach, he was a player.

“It’s just a part of me,” he said. It’s hard to give up.”

But some doctors wonder if the sport he loves so much is also what put him in a wheelchair.

“It’s what some doctors say,” Orgel said, “it really only takes one lick in the right place to trigger ALS.”

Three years ago, Orgel was diagnosed with ALS. Doctors believe it was triggered by a concussion.

Orgel remembers at least five he supported in his sporting career.

But the technology has changed dramatically in the 25 years since he was a coach.

Devonntavius ​​Campbell, a senior football player at Monroe High School, said the helmets they use now make him less afraid of having a concussion.

“I know it’s rare that I can get a concussion with this helmet because it has more padding and stuff.”

This helmet padding was recently evaluated in a Virginia Tech/Wake Forest Biomedical Engineering study to judge its ability to reduce the risk of concussion.

They rated the headsets from 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the best.

And, according to school records, many South Georgia schools use helmets with at least 3 stars or higher.

Dougherty County Schools said they refer to studying as a requirement.

When asked about their helmets, Wilcox County High School said they use several over the course of a season. But their list includes one helmet, known as the Schutt Air Advantage, which only received 2 out of 5 stars in the safety study.

Coach Charles Truitt of Monroe High School said a team’s choice of helmet is a mix of safety and cost.

“We were encouraged as much as we could financially to try to make sure our children were wearing a helmet recommended by the study,” he said.

Most schools use a variety of helmets, with air cushions, to ensure players have the best fit.

They can get a more personalized fit by adjusting the air inside.

Colquitt County High School uses five different helmets, all rated 3 stars or higher.

The school’s athletic trainer, Ryan Kebler, said a perfectly fitting helmet was absolutely necessary.

“It’s a collision sport. It’s dangerous and the helmet is the vital piece of protection. So I like to have a helmet that fits each player well and is comfortable and protective,” Kebler explained.

Frank Orgel said he was happy with the advancement of football helmets and, despite his condition, does not regret his days on the grill.

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, if you hadn’t been in football, you probably wouldn’t be in a wheelchair.’ And I don’t know if I would do anything different,” Orgel said.

MORE: See the full study here

South Georgia schools and the helmets they use:

Turner County High School:

Schutt’s Revenge
Schutt DNA Pro
Riddell’s Revolution

Cook County High School:

Riddell’s speed of revolution

Lowndes County High School:

Riddell 360
Riddell’s speed of revolution
Schutt Revenge VTD

Wilcox County High School:

Schutt Air Advantage
Schutt Pro Air II
Schutt DNA Pro
Schutt Air XP

Tift County High School:

Xenith X2
Schutt Air XP
Schutt’s Revenge
Riddell speed

Worth County High School:

Schutt’s Revenge
Riddell’s speed of revolution
Colquitt County High School:
Rawlings Tachyon
Schutt DNA Pro
Schutt’s Revenge
Riddell 360
Riddell’s speed of revolution

Crisp County High School:

Xenith X2E
Riddell speed
Schutt DNA
Schutt Pro Air

Dougherty County Schools

Monroe High School:

Riddell’s speed of revolution
Schutt Air XP
Albany High School:
Schutt’s Revenge
Schutt Air XP

Westover High School:

Schutt Air XP Pro
Schutt’s Revenge

Dougherty Comprehensive High School:

Riddell’s Revolution
Riddell 360

Lee County High School:

Xenith X2
Riddell’s speed of revolution

Deerfield-Windsor:

Riddell’s speed of revolution

Copyright 2014 WALB. All rights reserved.

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