Football is an expensive sport. With new helmets costing between $200-$450, it makes much more sense to pay only ¼ of that cost to refurbish and recertify the helmets for safety. Using this method, the helmets can be used again and again, lasting up to as many as ten seasons. And that is exactly what Gridiron Sports, a downtown Owensboro business does – turn unsafe, battered helmets into smooth, sleek, safe ones.
Steve Arnold, one of the current owners of Gridiron, has always been involved with football. After playing for the state-championship-winning Owensboro High School in the 1970’s, Steve went on to coach youth league and middle school football teams before coaching at both Owensboro Catholic, and his alma mater, Owensboro High. While coaching at OHS, Steve and fellow coach Mike Martin realized that there might be some room for a new business in the area of football helmet reconditioning. After looking into the process, Mike opened Gridiron Sports in 2003. Starting in a garage, Mike worked on approximately 1,000 helmets a year with Steve’s help. By 2006, the refurbishing business had built up to taking in 4,000 helmets a year. About that time, Steve Arnold approached Mike about buying into the growing success of the company.
Then in 2012, Stephen Arnold, Steve’s son who was attending University of Louisville for a Bachelor’s degree in Sports Administration, approached Mike about purchasing the business from him. Mike, who was still working a full-time job in Henderson and driving to Owensboro at night to restore helmets part-time, realized the need for the owners to devote their attention to the business full-time, so he sold his share of Gridiron to Stephen. Earlier this year, Ney Gore, Stephen’s brother-in-law, joined the operation, making it the all-around family business that Steve had always dreamed of.
Governed by NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) and one of only 21 members of NAERA (National Athletic Equipment Reconditioning Association), Gridiron puts used helmets through a thorough set of refurbishing procedures to make helmets look “the same as when it came off the assembly line,” according to Stephen. Once the helmets are received, the guts (interior parts) are removed, the helmets are cleaned, sanitized and checked for cracks before being buffed on a giant wheel to remove sticker residue and to eliminate any scuff marks. Then the surface is roughened with a sanding wheel so that paint will adhere. To add color back to the helmets, they are put through a three-step process where they are primed, painted and clear-coated. Gridiron custom-mixes paint colors to ensure that the helmets will match a team’s uniforms. Afterwards, all hardware is replaced with stainless steel. New loop straps are added to hold the face mask on securely, and new warning labels and certification stickers are applied-the safety symbol that coaches, administrators and parents expect. To further test the safety of each helmet, a drop test is performed as well.
Steve and Ney run the Owensboro site of Gridiron Sports, while Stephen operates out of Hilton Head, South Carolina, a great location since much of their business comes from the Southeast U.S. As a matter of fact, the business, which now refurbishes 13,000 helmets a year- more than twice the volume of 3 years ago – handles orders for the whole county of Mobile, Alabama, and some smaller colleges in Florida and Alabama, as well as many area schools: Owensboro High School, Kentucky Wesleyan College, Owensboro Catholic High and Middle schools, Owensboro Middle School, and many other schools in counties surrounding Daviess.
The three business owners feel blessed to be able to have a thriving, hometown Owensboro business. From financing to employees, Steve, Stephen and Ney have engaged local people, businesses and resources. They are proud of the commerce that is coming from all over the Southeast and into the state of Kentucky, where they are the only helmet reconditioners.
Because non-recertified helmets aren’t allowed to be used on the football field, Gridiron provides a valuable service for the safety of young players. Owner Steve often tells his workers, “When you rebuild this helmet, build it as if your child was going to be wearing it.”