KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – After so many games on the gridiron, a football helmet eventually needs to be retired. Austin-East head football coach Antonio Mays found out midseason, it would be the helmet’s last.
“When we were taking inventory our trainer and manager came to us mid-season and was like, ‘Hey coach, we can’t recondition these anymore, we have to get new helmets'” said Mays.
Mays remembered the previous head coach, Jeff Phillips, bought new helmets just a couple of years ago and figured those white helmets would be the solution. They ended up being a temporary fix.
“They [the coaching staff] said well the reason we haven’t been wearing those white helmets is because they cause headaches,” said Mays. “So we got stuck in a conundrum if you will.”
Rising seniors on the football team, Jeremiah Conwell and Bryson Steen teamed up to tackle the problem.
“Me and Bryson thought it would be a good idea to fundraise for some helmets because after some games I’d get headaches, other players would get headaches,” said Conwell.
The team started selling leftover discount cards, at a discounted rate, to raise money for new helmets, but they needed to raise $16,000 and the cards were not cutting it.
Mays said one of the parents of a player on the team suggested creating a GoFundMe to meet their goal. Mays, who jokes he is not tech-savvy, delegated the task to an assistant coach. Since starting the campaign on April 21, the team has raised nearly $7,000.
“We got it up and running and the first night we had raised over a thousand dollars. So I immediately became a fan,” said Mays.
“It was shocking,” said Steen. “I wasn’t really expecting us to raise a lot of money. I was hoping, of course, I was praying, but I didn’t expect for it to happen, especially not so fast. I’m just really thankful.”
Mays is looking to buy around 40 helmets for next season, specifically, the F7 brand that has extra padding and cushion to help absorb blows from an impact to help prevent concussions–critical in football.
“The first rule in coaching is to create a safe environment. And the most important part of your body is your head, so any kid that comes out we want to be able to give them the new F7,” said Mays who typically sees 40, to around 45 kids come out to play for the team.
Mays said he was conflicted about creating the campaign because of the timing and did not want it to seem like he was using the tragedies the school has endured over the last several weeks as a,” means of momentum.” As conflicted as he was, he extremely grateful for the people who have donated to their cause.
“You may not be able to do something big, but whatever it is you can do, just do that,” said Mays. “If all you can do is send a prayer for us, say that and we’re going to be in agreement and we appreciate it.”
For the students who have endured more tragedy in the last few months than anyone should in a lifetime, the money being donated means so much more than it’s face value.
“It would mean a lot to me, to know that we do have support from the community. And just knowing that people do love us, people do care about us, people do care about what we’re going through right now, it would mean a lot for us. I feel like it would mean a lot for the whole team,” said Steen.
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