Almost every football program in North Jersey lacked gear — helmets, some kind of pads, jerseys or even footballs — when practice began Aug. 10, a survey of coaches by the USA TODAY New Jersey Network found.
The reason? National suppliers like Riddell and Schutt, which clean, recycle and replace equipment for high school football programs on weekly and annual cycles, say they have been “severely impacted” by global supply chain, transportation and labor shortages.
The consequences? Players use dirty pads and jerseys, wear ill-fitting and outdated helmets and in some cases struggle to manage practice with too few balls.
Jack Maher is among the North Jersey football coaches who may have to do some extra laundry this fall.
The Becton football coach usually collects the jerseys of all his players after the junior varsity game on Monday. He drops everything off at his Wood Ridge home for a Riddell representative to pick up on Tuesday while Maher is at school. They all come back clean Thursday for Maher, his wife or an assistant coach to pick up and hand out before next week’s scheduled games.
Riddell and other providers told coaches like Maher they couldn’t handle it. In turn, New Jersey’s high school football teams may face more serious problems than cleanliness.
“It’s not fair on the kids,” said Maher, who borrowed six white helmets with a green stripe and a black face mask from Pascack Valley, a design that clashes with his team’s maroon with a white mask.
“They show up and fight hard every day,” he said. “Most are freshmen who haven’t played football before and can’t do contact drills. We had a few kids give up and my immediate thought process was, “Okay, I have one more helmet to give to another kid. ‘ “
A predictable process?
These deficits have been building up for months.
After the high school football season ends, most coaches send their helmets and pads to national vendors who repair and clean them. The best known companies are Riddell and Schutt, but the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations has 14 certified traders on its website. They are as close as USA Repair in Garfield and Egg Harbor Cityand to Texas, Colorado and California.
The boxes are usually usually returned in the spring, checked according to the regulations established by the National Operating Committee on Athletic Equipment Standards.
“I don’t know where that stuff goes. I don’t know what they do with it,” Garfield coach Pete Santacroce said. “The equipment comes back smelling exactly the same. It’s just as dirty.’
Helmets older than 10 years are removed, as are any that are damaged or defective.
It was there that Butler ran into trouble. Bulldogs coach Jason Luciani sent 69 helmets and received 40 back. The rest were rejected because of age or defects.
Luciani is usually notified in April or May, which leaves plenty of time to order replacements. This year the list didn’t arrive until July. Butler athletic director Derek Hall ordered a handful of university-approved white Schutt helmets from Amazon. They plan to paint them gold at a Bloomingdale auto shop owned by a Butler High parent.
Santacroce had 20 helmets “somewhere in limbo” for an Aug. 17 joint practice with Nutley and an Aug. 20 scrimmage at Hawthorne.
Luciani was on the knees of two schools. New Paramus Catholic coach Greg Russo borrows some from elsewhere. But he’s more concerned about the Adidas uniforms he ordered in February, about six weeks after he was hired.
Paramus Catholic sent 100 helmets to Schutt for repair and received only 40 back — and none of the 20 the school had ordered. Paladins paid more than $200 extra for a top-of-the-line model that was promised in 30 days. Footballs cost an inflated $107 each because of the shortage.
Russo finally got enough helmets the day before camp opened. Paladins still have mismatched training pants: medium black, but every other size in white.
That’s even after Tim Shay, a math teacher and defensive line coach, took control of the process: maintaining a photographic inventory, finding parts so the helmets could be repaired on site, and sending “about 30 emails.” , according to Rousseau.
“The worst part is, I never got a timeline,” said Russo, a former Paramus Catholic offensive coordinator who spent the past five years at Northern Highlands.
“These are all items that in the past you would never sweat about, ‘Can I have this?’ … It seems like the quietest thing that happens in football, but it’s a major problem,” he said.
Check the calendar
Riddell will ship 10 percent more “total helmets” compared to 2019, according to the press release. Riddell cut off new orders and promised existing repair orders by the first week of August, and stockpiled new helmets and shoulder pads by the end of August “with the remainder following shortly after September.”
It’s too late for New Jersey high schools. Week 0 games begin on August 26th and each team will play until September 3rd.
However, most non-conforming equipment is still within NFHS rules.
Points of emphasis the appointer of top football officials Mark Bitar emailed to coaches last week, included a reminder that while all players must wear the same color jerseys, the helmets do not have to match.
In another email, the Northern Chapter of the New Jersey Football Association agreed, saying, “Tradition enforces the expectation that all players on a team wear the same color helmet, pants, etc. Otherwise, it would be difficult to call the clothing a ‘uniform.’ Is the same color required here? No.”
However, Maher did not record any varsity fights due to the missing helmets. The shortage has already caused games to be canceled in Cleveland and the San Francisco Bay Area.
“Twenty-five years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Luciani said. “It’s not a good feeling to be an adult and know that a kid has a limited number of plays in his high school career and he’s missing them because of the equipment. It’s really a shame.”
Jane Havsey is a reporter for the Daily Record and DailyRecord.com, part of the USA TODAY Network. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis, subscribe today.
Want to share your story with me?
Email: [email protected]