NORFOLK -- Timothy Robinson dreamed of leading his high school football team to the playoffs but it all ended in an instant when he made a seemingly routine tackle and never got up.
Tim's family blames the company that made the helmet he was wearing when he was injured. It’s a helmet being used today in high schools throughout Hampton Roads.
During a homecoming football game in Mobile, Alabama, Le Flore High School was locked in a battle for a spot in the playoffs. With just 54 seconds left on the game clock, Robinson- the star linebacker - made a clutch tackle but never got up.
"I didn't have a clue as to what was going on. All I could do is stand and cry,” Tim’s mom Evelyn Robinson recalls.
Evelyn would soon learn her son had suffered a traumatic head injury from the tackle. Tim woke up ten days later in a coma and paralyzed on the left side of his body. He was unable to speak.
Four years after his accident, the one-time pre-law student, who had a dream of releasing a gospel rap CD, now requires around-the-clock care.
“I always say if God didn’t think I could handle it, I don't think he would have allowed me to go through it,” Evelyn Robinson says.
Tim Robinson and five other football players collectively won a settlement against Shutt, the company that made the helmet Robinson was wearing when he was injured. For Tim and his mother, the money makes medical expenses a bit easier to handle.
Injuries like Robinson's have inspired the work of Dr. Stefan Duma, a nationally-recognized Virginia Tech researcher who studies the biomechanics of injury.
“The number of head impacts in football dwarf any other sport," Duma says.
Part 1: Football helmet safety
Virginia Tech researchers designed a series of helmet impact tests for adult helmets used by high schools, colleges and the NFL. Each helmet was tested 120 times at different heights and from different directions. The 'drop testing' measured the amount of impact absorbed by the helmet.
Duma says some football helmets better absorb impact, reducing the risk of a concussion or serious brain injury by up to 50 percent.
Through their research, Virginia Tech developed a five-star rating system for helmets. Their scale begins with a "Not Recommended" helmet and goes up to five stars or "Best Available" rating.
After pouring through data from schools throughout Hampton Roads, we found a number of schools are using top-rated four and five-star helmets. We also found nearly every school district in Hampton Roads also has the lower-rated one and two-star models- the very ones Virginia Tech researchers caution schools not to use.
The Shutt Air Advantage helmet Timothy Robinson was wearing when he was injured was given a two-star rating. It's being used in nearly 20 high schools in Hampton Roads, including Kellam, Cox, and Ocean Lakes High Schools in Virginia Beach; Churchland High in Portsmouth; Lake Taylor in Norfolk; Phoebus High School in Hampton; and Grassfield High in Chesapeake.
Evelyn Robinson says she's unsure of her son's future. Tim cannot speak words and communicates only through text. Doctors say he may walk someday, but he will have to push himself to get there. Her warning to parents: ask questions, get involved, and take helmet safety seriously.