Helmet-to-helmet impact: Local orthopedic firm infuses dollars into Woodbury football program
Woodbury High School football players are equipped this year in the safest helmets on the market, and it’s courtesy of an emerging funding stream that school officials say is giving more flexibility to activities budgets.
The Royals have partnered with Summit Orthopedics, which has injected $15,000 into the program annually. The money will go toward the purchase of new, top-of-the-line helmets for the football team at a time when such purchases are more luxury than routine.
“Without their help, we just don’t have the athletic budget to provide the needed resource of helmets in a comprehensive 9-12 program,” said WHS Activities Director Jason Gonnion.
Head football coach Andy Hill said the new funding will allow him to rotate out old helmets on relatively tight intervals and dispense with a system that saw old helmets reconditioned every three years.
“I said, ‘We’re done with this,’” Hill said, recalling his assessment of the helmet system during his first year coaching at WHS in 2011. “We need to make a commitment to the safest helmets.”
And then he remembered the funding hurdles that came along with fulfilling that pledge. His $9,000 annual budget allocated from the school was virtually swallowed up by reconditioning costs – not to mention other equipment necessary to equip players each year.
Hill and Gonnion with Summit officials earlier this year in hopes of forging a partnership.
The Woodbury-based orthopedics firm was eager to team up.
“The mission of the football team just resounded with me perfectly,” said Bill Frommelt, chief operating officer for Summit. “It was an excellent fit for both organizations.”
The Summit funding stream now allows for 25 new helmets to be purchased every year for the grade 9-12 program, with the entire helmet stock rotated our every five years. Hill said helmet costs regularly account for the team’s biggest annual purchase.
Woodbury players are now outfitted with the Riddell Revolution Speed helmets, which drew a coveted five-star ranking in the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings – and sell for a retail price of $265 each.
“It’s great when someone steps up and says, ‘How can we make a major difference?’” Hill said.
Especially, Gonnion said, when safety is at the forefront.
“It’s non-negotiable to have a quality piece of protective gear, especially with head injuries as prevalent as they are,” he said.
The Summit partnership represents a growing trend among corporations infusing dollars into prep sports programs around Minnesota.
“The day has come where you need to look at creatively solving problems,” Gonnion said.
He said in Woodbury’s case, the Summit partnership helps more than just the football team. Gonnion is now able to take dollars originally earmarked for the football program and redistribute them to other programs that are hurting for funding.
“It’s really beneficial,” he said. “We’re extremely grateful. We wouldn’t be where we are with the football program and activities without their help.”
Summit officials said they see it as a mutually beneficial relationship.
Frommelt and Karie Ayers, Summit’s referral and outreach specialist, said the firm is always looking to build and strengthen its roots in the Woodbury community. The firm will receive a sponsorship space on the WHS football scoreboard and will have signage present at other WHS games, as well.
Frommelt said the key for Summit is to generate an awareness in the football community and beyond about the business.
In addition to helmet funding, Summit also offers resources, including exposure to the firm’s doctors, who will offer safety tips to players.
“We just want to be that resource,” Frommelt said.
He stressed that the partnership is not financially driven for Summit. If his firm can generate awareness while supporting a local school, it’s a win-win, he said.
Meanwhile, school officials see the partnership as tool for accomplishing more with less.
“We just have a very generous business climate in Woodbury,” Gonnion said. “As those people step forward, we are very thankful and very receptive to collaborating and providing great stuff for our kids.”