Earlier this summer, Ashtabula, Ohio, Edgewood athletic director Steve Kray discovered what it felt like to go without football helmets.
It made his head hurt.
Kray had ordered helmets for his district's middle school football program in February, but due to COVID-19-related supply chain problems, he found himself short 15 helmets at the start of training camp.
"The kids were sharing helmets," Kray said. "I'd go to Dick's [Sporting Goods] once a week to see if anything was in stock. Even if it was a green helmet, I'd grab it. I was doing everything I could to find helmets."
So was his Riddell Sports Group representative, Brad Keck. While Keck didn't have any extra stock — Riddell spends the football offseason operating like a pizza place on Friday night — he knew a team that did: Walsh University. So, on a Tuesday morning in August, Keck and Kray drove down to North Canton, Ohio, to purchase 15 small and medium helmets from the Division II program.
He then gave the helmets to one of his assistant coaches who owns a body shop. The coach painted the helmets to match the others.
The season was saved.
"It worked out perfect," Kray said. "I couldn't have gotten that lucky again in my life. Brad definitely went above and beyond."
A few weeks later, Cleveland Collinwood High School had to forfeit its Week 1 game because its helmets didn't arrive in time, the first time in recent memory that an Ohio high school had to cancel a football game due to an equipment shortage.
Naturally, media outlets wondered how this could happen, but a better question might be, why doesn't this happen more often?
Often, it's because company representatives are working with schools to find creative solutions, as when Chardon, Ohio, sourced loaner helmets while theirs were being completed, or when Summit County-based Green's youth program borrowed 56 helmets from Saint Rita CYO in Solon, Ohio, to tide them over until their helmets were completed. In both cases, the schools had Riddell rep Doug Harper to thank.
"They're [helmet companies] taking a beating over this whole thing, but the supply chains are that bad," Kray said. "Afterward, Brad and I spent some time together and we were laughing because there are major collegiate programs that didn't have helmets. There are [reps] getting blown up by high school [coaches] who don't have theirs, or some peewee league downtown somewhere doesn't have helmets. Meanwhile, the University of Michigan is missing half their helmets."
Kray laughed, then added, "It puts things in perspective."