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“Helmets to Heal:” Racine football coach resigns, creates organization dedicated to player safety

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RACINE -- There's no getting around the risk of concussions from contact sports such as football, but a coach in Racine believes players can significantly diminish the chances of suffering a brain injury if they're better equipped.

The movie "Concussion" rang the alarm on the effects of repeated head trauma on players' health.

Helmets to Heal

"So far so good. Everybody that I've talked to really loves the helmet," said Kyle Oppenheimer.

As a former assistant coach at Racine Horlick High School, Oppenheimer has a passion for football, but his mission goes beyond the game.

"All this charity is about is to keep kids safe. Keep kids from having their first concussion, and go forth from there," Oppenheimer said.

Helmets to Heal

Helmets to Heal

Oppenheimer is the founder and executive director of "Helmets to Heal." He started the organization to help decrease the risk of brain injuries in youth football.

Kyle Oppenheimer

Kyle Oppenheimer

"Understanding the fact that the game, the numbers are dwindling down. Since 2010, some youth leagues are down 27% -- which is a huge number. A lot of high schools aren't able to have an A and B freshman squad where that used to be something that was normal," Oppenheimer said.

Oppenheimer and his partners are trying to change the culture and voluntarily instill a more active concussion protocol. In June, Oppenheimer asked GE Healthcare, the company he works for, to consider donating money to buy safer helmets for youth football players in Racine. In a short time, Helmets to Heal, a non-profit company, raised money and donated 60 EPIC football helmets to three Racine schools and one local youth program.

Racine Horlick High School

"They made this helmet to take the side hits, so the helmet almost slings back. When some kids take the hit, you'll see the face mask actually move, like the helmet going crooked on them, but then it actually slings back again," said Oppenheimer.

"Everybody's pretty excited because it's completely different from any other helmet we've really had. Just the way it works -- it's more comfortable and it's better for you. I've had a concussion before, and this makes you feel a lot safer because you know it will be better and there's a lot less of a risk going on," said Michael Haase, senior tight end.

Kyle Oppenheimer

Kyle Oppenheimer

"It means a lot, getting all these new helmets for free means a lot to our program and everybody here," said Oppenheimer.

Helmets to Heal is working with peewee programs in Racine, Kenosha, Milwaukee and Waukesha. They hope to donate 300 of the best helmets and 1,000 concussion testing programs.

Oppenheimer has become so immersed in the project that he resigned from his coaching position at Racine Horlick. Player safety means more to him than his love of football.

Racine Horlick High School

"I can't say it's going to avoid a concussion completely, but I can say that putting a better helmet on a child is going to keep that child safer on the field," said Oppenheimer.

CLICK HERE if you'd like to learn more about Helmets to Heal.