Several area businesses pitched in and sponsored the Park and Recreation department’s purchase of 300 new Schutt helmets for players in grades three through six. (Submitted photo)

The Owatonna Parks and Recreation Department and the OHS football program made a massive investment recently.

This was all about the kids.

Thanks to a number of generous local sponsors and a sizable donation from the OHS Quarterback Club, every third through sixth grader in the Parks and Rec football program will be outfitted with a brand new helmet starting this fall.

“Football has been getting a bad name with the concussions,” said Owatonna Recreation Manager Tim Truelson. “To be honest, kids were wearing helmets they shouldn’t have be wearing, so that got us thinking. Safety is the top priority when it comes to youth football, and we were committed to making an investment.”

Spearheaded by Truelson with the cooperation of several key parties, including OHS football liaison Matt Skala, the Parks and Rec department presented a number of sponsorship packages to local businesses in hopes of raising enough money to outfit every player in the system and build a strong inventory moving forward.

Businesses from a variety of sectors graciously stepped up and sponsorship was officially finalized earlier this week, allowing the department to purchase 300 brand new Schutt Youth Vengeance Pro helmets on Wednesday.

The total cost reached roughly $30,000 with Federated Insurance, Gopher Sport, Struss CPAs, the OHS Quarterback Club and Court Sports offering “high end” donations according to Truelson. Mayo Clinic, Fairway Foods, Prairie Ridge Orthodontics, Thrivent Financial as well as Jones, Haugh and Smith Engineers and Surveyors also chipped in. Each helmet will feature two decals, one for each side, and will recognize a local sponsor.

In order to maintain the new equipment and provide the department with adequate replacement units, the participation fee for youth football was raised from $42 to $75 starting this season.

“We didn’t want to do it just to do it,” Truelson said. “We went with the $180 price-point and we got some discounts. Medford is part of our program, so this is really and a Steele County initiative. We knew we had to raise the price to sustain this and that took care of $8,000 dollars and we will put that money in a separate account moving forward. The life expectancy [of the helmets] is about 10 years. We purchased enough to have flexibility in sizes.”

Youth participation remains consistent and steady in Owatonna as 270 kids are expected to fill almost 20 teams in grades three through six this fall with roughly 55 youngsters coming from Medford.

Third and fourth grade will sponsor seven or eight teams with fifth and sixth graders filling 10 squads. Third and fourth graders will play a five-game schedule with an additional five dates set aside for organized scrimmages used as a “teaching tool” according to Truelson and geared toward hands-on instruction and fundamental reinforcement.

Aside from new helmets, the Park and Rec department emphasizes safety by utilizing to the TackleBar equipment, which, according to its official web site is “a safer approach to the game that preserves the tradition and spirit of the sport.” In this system, players wear traditional football equipment, plus a harness that holds two foam bars across the lower back. The defender must track and engage with proper form-tackling technique while wrapping the ball carrier and ripping a bar from the harness.

From the varsity down to third grade, coaches within the Owatonna system have also preached less hitting and more technique during practices.

Concussions have been reduced across the board in Owatonna thanks to all of the safety initiatives with Truelson’s goal being “zero per year.”

Reach sports editor Jon Weisbrod at 444-2375, or follow him on @OPPJonW

Award-winning Sports Editor for the Owatonna People's Press, Weisbrod has worked in daily newspapers his entire career. He writes a regular column called Beyond the Box that delves into local, regional and national sports storylines.

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