BROCTON – Sunday was a tough day for people in this tiny Chautauqua County village, who were still reeling from the shocking news that a high school football injury left a local youth from a well-known family critically injured.
Students in football jerseys, their heads hanging low, made their way to the high school cafeteria to talk about the apparent head injury that left their teammate 60 miles away in a Buffalo hospital.
Patrons at the local hotel and restaurant shook their heads, some holding back tears as they wondered how Damon W. Janes could be so seriously injured from a simple game.
And everyone – from school officials to residents walking along the street – asked not just for privacy, but also for prayers.
“We’re a tight community that’s coming together,” said resident Wendy Fish.
That was apparent everywhere in this one-stoplight town, where talk centered on the sad news that Damon, 16, remained in the pediatric intensive care unit at Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.
He was taken there Friday night, during the Westfield/Brocton high school football team’s game against Portville. Damon, a junior, reportedly lost consciousness shortly after a helmet-to-helmet hit during a play in the third quarter.
Two high schoolers taking a walk around the school grounds said everyone was “very upset” since hearing about the injury to Damon, who they said is well-liked and known as a good player.
Students at the school gathered with parents and faculty to talk about the seriousness of the injury and what might come next. The students planned on wearing green shirts – the Brocton school color – in solidarity with Damon as he recovers.
One woman said the tragedy “touches us all,” adding that the village is a tight-knit community centered on the school.
Family members and school officials declined to comment about the circumstances of the injury, asking for privacy as they deal with the situation.
But many recalled how closely the village identifies with the team, which is made up of players from the Westfield and Brocton school districts.
One man who grew up playing high school football in Brocton said the injury left him in disbelief, while others pointed to the increasingly common reports about head injuries in contact sports.
“We actually do see a lot of injuries come in from sports of all kinds. Football’s a big one, obviously, because of the nature of the sport, the collisions, and the number of people who play,” said Dr. Jason M. Matuszak, chief of sports medicine and director of the Sports Concussion Center at Excelsior Orthopaedics in Amherst, who also officiates high school football games in the area.
The most common football injuries he sees are injuries to the lower extremities, such as a twisted ankle or broken leg; internal injuries, such as a ruptured spleen; and torn ligaments.
While changes to the game, and improvements in safety equipment, have led to fewer fatal head injuries in the sport in recent years, head-to-head impacts remain an issue for coaches, parents and officials at every level of football, Matuszak said.
In 2012, about 1.1 million teenagers played high school football in this country, among the 4.2 million people who played the sport from the youth football level to the NFL, according to the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research, prepared by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Two fatalities were directly related to the sport that season, both of them involving semi-pro players.
Twenty-five high school players suffered fatal injuries over the 10 seasons between 2003 and 2012, the survey found.
They include Ridge Barden, who played defensive tackle for Phoenix High School in Central New York and suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage during a football game in October 2011.
Over the same 10-year period, 78 high school players suffered brain injuries from which they did not fully recover, and 71 suffered a catastrophic cervical injury, according to a companion survey from the center.
“Those are big numbers, and they’re bigger than we’d like to see,” Matuszak said.
He noted, however, that cheerleading has the highest rate of catastrophic injuries among any youth sport, and other studies show more people are injured while on their way to, or from, youth football games than during the games.
Local high school football observers say an increasing number of parents are opting to hold their sons out of football games for fear of serious head injuries – a phenomenon they say contributed to the recent merger of the Westfield and Brocton teams.