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MODESTO — When Gregori High School senior Dominic Barandica was a freshman, he was given an English assignment that impacted not only his life, but also the lives of every high school football player in Modesto.
The assignment was to write a paper on goals, and his was about the importance of safety, concussion analysis and treatment in football, a sport the middle linebacker had seen come under fire. His suggestion? To get safer helmets for high school players.
Before graduation, Barandica met that goal. He gave multiple presentations and helped secure funding for 900 special Riddell football helmets for Modesto City Schools. Every high school player in the district now wears one.
“I love football with all my heart. It’s really one of my favorite things,” Barandica said.
The high schools use the Riddell Revolution Speedflex, the same brand of helmet used by 83 percent of National Football League players. It’s also an upgrade to the Riddell Revolution model the program originally used. The new helmet features patented side impact protection, a quick release facemask, custom inflation and an overliner for proper fit, comfort and stability.
The sensor inside the helmet relays data about the severity of each hit to a computer system. From there, coaches can determine if a player suffered a concussion, pull the player from the game and complete the proper course of treatment.
“It really puts the safety of the player first,” Barandica explained.
After the first year at Gregori High School, one concussion was identified, suffered by a player who hit the ground. It’s a call a coach could have missed because of the many things that happen on the football field at any given time.
“We were really on the forefront when we did this,” Barandica said. Gregori was the ninth school in the nation to implement a program with these helmets and soon Modesto City Schools was the first public school district to do the same.
The systems cost about $450 each ($300 for the helmet and an additional $150 for the sensor).
All of the funding came from Doctors Medical Center and the school district. It was money that was given after Barandica presented his idea to each board.
It started when Barandica told Doctors Medical Center’s Chief Business Development Officer Carin Sarkis about his desire to get the helmet technology in his school. She invited him to present his idea to the board. However, Barandica said he was instructed not to get his hopes up, as he’d be competing against big programs with professional grant writers.
“He just knocked our socks off,” Sarkis said. “It was a college-level grant proposal.”
Much to his own amazement, Gregori received $10,000 for a pilot program. The school used the technology along with a volunteer sideline physician to test its accuracy.
“I always really feel like this is a community effort more than a ‘me’ thing,” Barandica said.
Doctors and the school board wanted to expand the program after the first year, so Barandica made a second presentation to the school district’s Board of Directors. During the presentation, Barandica asked for 18 helmets for each high school.
“We really didn’t want to ask for too much or too little,” he explained.
When the Board president said it wasn’t good enough, Barandica’s heart fell. But his disappointment didn’t last long. The president followed up his statement with, “I think we need to go further.”
The Board funded a helmet for every player in the district. Those 900 helmets cost roughly $150,000.
The helmets last for multiple seasons because they can be reconditioned, which keeps maintenance costs low. At the end of each year they are sent for refurbishment and receive new batteries. Barandica said replacements are recommended every 10 years.
California Rehabilitation and the office of Dr. Jonathan Pettegrew, both in Modesto, provide volunteers to staff the program, and donate all the money paid by players for mandatory physicals to continue funding.
Barandica’s efforts helped him get into college.
He said when he received his acceptance letter from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, where he has committed to go for the fall, there was a special message printed on the bottom. It read, “We hope that you continue your concussion research.”
That’s what Barandica, an aspiring-physician, plans to do, in addition to continuing with football.
“I’m excited to see my efforts continue at home and maybe start something there too,” he said.
The program also helped Barandica earn the inaugural Modesto 10 Player with Drive Scholarship for $5,000 from Central Valley Automotive. In all, 20 students were considered.
“We were trying to look for kids who obviously were good athletes and performance on the field was important but we put a lot of weight on their academic performance as well and their community service, too,” said Brent Gardner. “(Barandica) was a very easy selection. (He’s) just one of the most well-rounded kids I think I’ve ever met.”
Barandica was also named a distinguished finalist in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards from Prudential Financial and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the United States’ largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service.
“That kid is going places,” Sarkis said. “He will make a difference is whatever field he chooses.”