Players from the Eastside Junior Crusaders, Ballard Knights and Everett Junior Wildcats took part in a promotional shoot for more than 12 hours at Eastside Catholic High School one day last year to introduce the Zero1 Youth model. The coaches were ecstatic; the kids loved the cameras and free swag.
While Everett and Eastside, associated with private high schools, have outfitted their players with VICIS helmets, Ballard has turned to crowdsourcing to fund the helmets, but remains thousands of dollars shy.
The cost to outfit an entire youth team runs between $40,000 and $50,000 (it's nearly twice that at the high-school level), money that non-profit programs such as Ballard and those from less affluent areas don't have sitting around. Everett got creative, fundraising to buy the helmets and offering parents a discounted rate of $250 to rent them.
"I look at VICIS, and while it's expensive, no doubt about it," Ballard president and coach Andrew Muller said, "... I look at it like, hey if there's something that's been proven and tested to be better -- and significantly at that -- we have to get our kids into them."
At West Seattle, Earnest Phillips recently paid about $80 per helmet to re-fit his roster. For a program that doesn't have the built-in donors of Eastside or the engaged, affluent community of Ballard, VICIS was never an option.
"You can't ignore the price," said Phillips, whose organization uses its limited funds first to provide scholarships that allow for kids to play. "Fifty thousand dollars is two years of our operating cost."
Michael Shigley, the longtime president and coach of the Eastside Junior Crusaders, boasts the first-ever Zero1 Youth helmet -- with the serial number to prove it. His Crusaders have led the charge in implementing safety standards for their league, even partnering with VICIS and another youth league in California to create a yet-to-be-implemented "gold standard" for safety in youth football.
That measure would take a combined look at the coaching techniques (for example, heads-up football and rugby tackling), practice standards (limiting physical contact and maximizing recovery time) and equipment, such as the VICIS helmets, to assess programs.
It's the former two that many say matter most -- and are most achievable.
"The helmets are important, but it's one of many things," said Marver, the VICIS CEO. "It's tackling techniques, it's vigilance, it's ways of coaching, ways of practicing."