CEDAR RAPIDS — Trevor Arnold loves the different designs of football helmets. He persuaded his school to sign off on a new white-based design when it had previously used nothing but black as its primary helmet color.
So in this time of sports nothingness, the Maquoketa Valley football coach and activities director decided to reach out and engage people via his helmet passion.
Arnold is in the final four of what you could call the state championship on Twitter. It’s Union and Underwood in one semifinal and Lewis Central versus Cascade in the other.
Underwood and Lewis Central were leading as of Monday afternoon, with just a few hours of voting to go.
“At the end of the day, yeah, this was about finding the coolest helmet,” Arnold said. “But it also was just to get people thinking about something other than all the crap going on right now.”
Arnold said he saw someone in Pennsylvania had recently put together a helmet contest, which intrigued him. He put out a Twitter call for anyone and everyone to give him photos of their respective school’s helmet.
He ended up with 128, which he put into four 32-school brackets. He named the brackets after legendary coaches in this state: the late Bob Sanger of West Hancock, Gary Swenson of West Des Moines Valley, Curt Bladt of Harlan and Jerry Pezzetti of Ankeny.
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“It was just ‘Hey, I’m going to do this. Send me your helmet,’” Arnold said. “I didn’t care if you were a coach, an AD, a parent, a kid, a former student of the school, whatever. Just send me a helmet.
“I took what everybody gave me, threw it into a bracket. I tried to set up the bracket a hundred different ways. In my mind, what would have been ideal would have been, like, 32 white helmets, 32 black helmets, 32 kind of in the blue and purple family, 32 in the gold and silver territories and other random colors. The numbers just didn’t work out. I tried doing it by class, and that didn’t work out. Tried doing it by area of the state, and that didn’t work out. At the end of the day, doing it random ended up working out best.”
Arnold wondered if the largest schools might dominate, considering they had the bigger enrollments and presumably more people to vote for them. But it didn’t work out that way.
In his Elite Eight, there was one Class 4A school (Valley), two 3As (Lewis Central and Ballard), one 2A (Union), three 1As (Underwood, Cascade and Ida Grove OABCIG) and one A (East Buchanan).
“A lot of people wondered if the largest schools from the cities with the largest populations would win out, but I look back to the first round when Remsen St. Mary’s upset (West Des Moines) Dowling,” he said. “That’s just comical to me that could even happen. But I think it proves that the better looking helmet wins. For the most part, that has happened with this. The only time it really hasn’t has been with the really hyped up fanbases like the Treynors and Underwoods of the world. Those helmets are good anyway, but with the way their fanbases are with this, they were going to beat anything. People there are excited about it.”
It turned out he was, too. Arnold is a coach, after all, and his competitive juices started flowing when his school had a nip-and-tuck second-round encounter with Denison-Schleswig.
Maquoketa Valley ended up being determined the winner in what Arnold said was one of four matchups in his contest that were decided by four votes or less.
“It says ‘Polls finalizing’ on your (Twitter) profile when you are looking at a poll,” he said. “So I’m sitting there looking at this, waiting for it to finalize. I didn’t think I was that into it that much, but I was. I’m sitting there for 10 minutes, wasting 10 minutes of my life waiting for it to finalize. When we won, I was pretty excited about it. I think most people have been happy when they’ve won and upset when they lost.”
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Arnold said he figured out there were 7,000 votes total in the first round of his helmet challenge. He estimates the total vote count is close to 30,000.
“That’s the thing, I’m doing mine my way, Nebraska is doing one slightly different, Illinois has got one going on that’s pretty cool,” he said. “Both the Nebraska and Illinois guys talked to me before setting theirs up, which was kind of cool. Wisconsin Preps sent me a message that they are going to do one as well.”
Arnold said there were about 20 other schools who wanted to be included but missed his deadline. They’ll have to wait until next year, when he plans on doing another one.
With this seeming to catch on with some other states as well, he dreams of a national contest sometime.
“Nebraska, Illinois, us, Oklahoma, there’s a part of California that’s got one going, South Carolina has done one, Pennsylvania is done with theirs,” he said. “The big goal is to have one 50-team, 50-helmet bracket for the whole country. That’s the big goal.”
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