BROCTON, N.Y. - Almost three days after receiving a severe head injury during a Class D varsity football game, Brocton (N.Y.) High School junior Damon W. Janes has passed away.
"Damon W. Janes, 16, a junior who attended Brocton Central School, lost his fight and went to be with the Lord following his injury resulting from helmet-to-helmet collision during a Westfield/Brocton varsity football game," an official joint statement from Women & Children's Hospital at Buffalo and the family of Janes stated. "His parents wish to express their gratitude to those who have supported and prayed for Damon and his family, and continue to request that their privacy be respected at this time."
The 16-year-old running back was transported to Olean General Hospital from Portville, then to Women & Children's, after taking the helmet-to-helmet hit during the third quarter of a football game Friday night between Brocton Central School and Westfield Academy and Central School (which has a combined football team) and Portville Central School. Janes reportedly lost consciousness after the hit. The game was called off after the injury.
Twitter was overflowing with statements of sadness and shock Monday evening with the hashtag #PrayForDamon.
"Rest peacefully Damon Janes you've brought this whole community closer than ever before," Monica Kahi Simmons posted using the #PrayForDamon hashtag.
A second tweet by Don Grzebielucha posted Monday night said, "No one's supposed to go play football & die, but Damon died doing something he loved, he'd want all to keep playing, caring..."
Sixteen-year-old Brocton High School junior Damon W. Janes passed away late Monday afternoon, approximately three days after receiving a severe head injury during a Class D varsity football game at Portville
By CRAIG HARVEY
OBSERVER Sports Editor
The Brocton and Westfield community endured a tragic event over the weekend as 16-year-old Brocton junior Damon Janes was injured during a football game Friday night and passed away Monday afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Westfield community, it was the second time in 38 years a football player passed away.
In 1975, Brett Smith was a 17-year-old senior at Westfield Academy.
Following a play against Falconer, Smith suffered a brain aneurysm and collapsed on the sidelines. By the time he reached St. Vincents Hospital, he was pronounced dead.
After hearing of Janes death, then-Westfield coach Mike Cluchey had flashbacks of that horrible evening in 1975.
He was on defense and he was a defensive back, Cluchey recalled, speaking to the OBSERVER by phone from Indiana on Monday. It wasnt so much a hit. We went through the film. A protective agency took his helmet and they did an inspection. They couldnt find anything. As it turned out, Brett had an aneurysm that burst. Whether banging around had anything to do with it, I dont know. Our local doctor was there said he came off field and collapsed. He believed there was nothing we could have done. It was going to happen eventually, so the injury was tragic, but it made it more tragic it was during the football game.
Westfield-Broctons scheduled game for Friday night against Ellicottville has been postponed, as well as all sports for Brocton and Westfield this week. That news came as relief for Cluchey who remembers just how difficult that following week was for himself and the players. After a week of practice and burying Smith, the Wolverines pushed their game back three days and played the following Monday at Randolph.
It was horrible, Cluchey said. We had to go back to practice. We were forced into playing on a Monday following his funeral. The game ended in a 0-0 tie. To make us play the Monday after we buried him, the kids couldnt handle it and I couldnt handle it. The rest of the year was tough. It was an extremely difficult time.
As for Janes injury, Cluchey passed along his condolences to the family.
I think its horrible, he said. You feel so sorry for the family. That young man was out there having fun and something like this happens. I dont know how parents can handle this.
Cluchey learned a lesson that still stings to this day, but passed along the following bit of advice to everyone mourning the loss of Janes.
My heart goes out to (coach Bob North), he continued. I know how much it ate me up. You just have to try to find a way to go on. Its not (coach Norths) fault or any coachs fault. Its not the kid he hits fault. Its just something that happens. You cant blame anyone for it.
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The news of Janes' death has garnered national attention, from high-ranking officials within the United States government to members of the national football community.
"Praying for Damon and the entire Brocton community from DC today," United States Senator Chuck Schumer tweeted.
"Sad news of the passing of Damon Janes, 16. We have to protect young FB players & it starts with training their necks," Kevin McCadem, assistant strength coach at West Virginia University, tweeted.
Brocton School Superintendent John Hertlein said he, as well as the entire Brocton/Westfield community, is "deeply saddened" by the loss of Janes.
"This is the community's loss, as well as the school's loss and we're deeply sorry for all of that," he said. "Our prayers are with his family, his classmates, his teammates and so on. We have no particular information on any type of arrangements and counselors will be available for students throughout this entire week."
"This is such a tragic event. One that nobody could ever believe would happen in our small community, a close community where we look after and take care of each other," Brocton School Board member and Chautauqua County legislator Thomas DeJoe said. "I would ask that everyone continues to pray for Damon's family to give them our support and strength to deal with their tragic and devastating loss; a loss that we all share with them. God bless them."
During a Westfield Village Board meeting Monday evening, Mayor Mike Vande Velde asked for a moment of silence for Janes following the Pledge of Allegiance.
"We offer our condolences to his family on behalf of the village of Westfield," he said.
A Facebook page calls for the nation to wear the color pink today in Janes' memory. Students at Brocton wore their school color, green, on Monday in Janes' honor. Students at Westfield also wore green, as well as their school color, blue, on the same day. Portville students have also committed to wearing pink today for the Brocton junior.
According to the New York State Sportswriters Association, in the past two years, other scholastic athletes from New York have died while taking part in fall sports. Sixteen-year-old Ridge Barden of Phoenix, N.Y., collapsed during a football game in 2011 due to bleeding in the brain unleashed by forceful bodily contact. Ronan Guyer, 14, of Southold, N.Y., died last November also at Women & Children's while in a medically induced coma triggered by cardiac arrest after preparing for a cross country meet in Elma.
All competitive sporting events this week in both the Brocton and Westfield school districts have been canceled in lieu of Janes' passing.
"These events are at the discretion of the coaches and we encourage that because we like to have kids be involved," Hertlein said.
Brocton has also canceled, until further notice, all Homecoming activities planned for this week and has postponed its board of education meeting that was scheduled for Wednesday to Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. in the board room.
Also, Westfield has canceled its open house that was scheduled for Thursday until further notice. This includes a visitation and tour of the Brocton Central School building for high school students.
Brocton has canceled its own visitation and tour for middle school students of the Westfield Academy and Central School facility that was also scheduled for Thursday.
Brocton Mayor Dave Hazelton declined to comment to the OBSERVER out of respect for the family's wishes for privacy.
The Morse Funeral Home in Brocton is handling arrangements for Janes' funeral, which are currently incomplete. A full obituary will be published in Wednesday's OBSERVER.
Ann Belcher contributed to this story.
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