Adam Kennybrew had played football. Played fullback and special teams for the Oregon Ducks, in fact. You make the team, you get a helmet. That was his thinking. And it made sense until the newly hired Willamette High School football coach learned the Wolverines’ football helmet supply was down to 37. Not a good number when you’re aiming for more than 100 kids to join the program.

“When I got hired, there were some assumptions made on my part,” Kennybrew said. “I just assumed the (school) would supply and have helmets and shoulder pads.”

The immediate need for helmets transpired for a couple of reasons. First, about 30 helmets had exceeded their 10-year lifespan. Also contributing to the helmet dearth was the preceding coaching staff’s policy of having players either buy or lease their helmets. It’s not uncommon, and the savings frees coaches up to use the funds in other ways. Kennybrew saw the $225 price-tag and begged to differ.

“I feel the equipment, the helmet and shoulder pads are bare necessities, and it should be part of the contribution the program makes to the players,” Kennybrew said.

Willamette High School

Willamette High School

“We’re looking at families having to pay up to $500 to play, and that’s without sending them to developmental camps over the summer. The community we live in doesn’t have those kinds of funds. It’s a hard-working, blue-collar community. We have a lot of families with single-income and single-parent homes. And it’s unrealistic to expect them to afford that.”

So Kennybrew and his team of coaches and parents initiated a sponsor-a-helmet program a month ago to raise money for 100 new helmets, each costing about $225. Those interested can donate as much as they’re able and sponsor a specific player or pick a number from 1 to 100 they want to sponsor. Each helmet will have a decal that corresponds with the sponsored number. Through direct requests to friends, families, local businesses and through a car wash, a drive to collect recyclable cans and bottles in local neighborhoods, the Wolverines network has rallied enough support for 66 helmets. Its very likely they’ll need every one.

Adam Kennybrew

Adam Kennybrew

Since spring and through summer strength and conditioning training, about 107 different kids have worked out and expressed the desire to play on the team. About 45 to 50 of them have consistently made the summer strength workouts.

“I see that as a number that’s not enough,” Kennybrew said. “But those are much greater than they have been in the past. The type of work-ethic we need to have has not existed, and kids are starting to respond to it. We’re attempting to change a culture, not just a person but a program. That takes quite a bit of time and quite a bit of proving.”

For the former Thurston High School assistant coach, the helmet program is part of the proving. After he was hired in February to take over team that finished 2-7 last year and replace Dan Fritz, Kennybrew surveyed kids at the school to establish what deterred some from joining the football team. He often heard the same thing: “I heard kids say they couldn’t play because they didn’t have the money. So I feel its the program’s responsibility to make sure that whatever number of players come out we supply them with helmets.”

So what’s the worst-case scenario? What if 100-helmet goal falls short? Kennybrew says he’ll go before the school board to request funding if he must, and if that doesn’t accomplish anything, he said he’ll pay for the helmets with the coaching stipend the school pays him.

“I don’t see the worst-case scenario,” he said. “I don’t anticipate there being failure in the helmet drive or in our investment in the program.”

Willamette High School

Willamette High School football is raising funds to to pay for 34 more helmets. (Courtesy of willamettefootball.com)

Interest in investment has even reached outside of the Bethel School District. Kennybrew says he’s received donations from people as far away as Roseburg.

“That was awesome to see people care about kids and do whatever it takes,” he said. “It’s been awesome to see the community at-large rally behind this. At the end of the day, they see it’s about kids and not just a specific (school).”

For Jane Kammerzelt, it was about supporting her son, John, a first-year freshmen team coach. She sponsored helmet No. 23 in honor of her son’s age.

“(Kennybrew) really understands the value of this,” Kammerzelt said. “We are going to build young men. It’s more than just football. He’s resurrecting a football program, and he sees how kids could benefit from this…We want to sponsor each helmet so every kid knows someone cares.”

Note: In their final push to reach 100 helmets, the team will hold a yard sale at the north parking lot of Willamette High School on Aug. 9 and 10. Anyone interested in sponsoring a helmet or making a tax-deductible donation can contact Casey Ferguson by phone at (541) 844-8356 or e-mail at casey@potterdecal.com or Jane Kammerzelt by phone at (541) 954-1453 or e-mail at janekammerzelt@gmail.com. Make checks payable to Willamette High School, “Sponsor a Helmet 540”, 1801 Echo Hollow Road, Eugene, OR 97402.

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