Hearts across Western New York – especially those in its high school football community – broke Monday night after receiving the dreadful news that nobody wanted to hear.
Damon W. Janes, a running back on the Westfield/Brocton football team who lost consciousness after a helmet-to-helmet hit in a game Friday night, died in Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. He was 16.
His parents, in a statement, expressed their “gratitude to those who have supported and prayed for Damon and his family.”
Word of Damon’s death sent shock waves through the community, from the teammates who hoped he would pull through to the hundreds of students who donned green in solidarity with their fallen friend.
Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters – seemingly anyone who has watched their child or brother walk between the white chalk lines of a football field – took to the Internet to express their sorrow.
“God received a new angel today,” one girl wrote, echoing the comments of another who said Janes was “up with the angels playing football.”
Another said Brocton, the small Chautauqua County village where Damon lived, “has seen too much tragedy. … Rest in peace, sweet boy.”
Still others said their hearts were with the boy who was on the other side of the fatal blow that changed the Janeses’ lives forever.
The death of a young person after suffering a blow to the head during a football game is uncommon but unfortunately not unprecedented.
Ridge Barden, a 16-year-old defensive tackle from John C. Birdlebough High School in Central New York, died within hours of falling to the ground during a game two years ago. He suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage.
According to experts, 25 high school players suffered fatal injuries between 2003 and 2012.
Still, the death three days after the football team’s game against Portville appeared to shock everyone involved.
Public officials struggled to grasp the situation and what the appropriate response might be, given that no similar situation had ever happened in Western New York.
They could not immediately say when an autopsy might be performed or when the cause of death would be determined. It was also unclear whether a formal investigation would take place, or who would direct it.
A spokesman from the state Education Department said the agency does not typically investigate such matters, and some officials said that any investigation may start with the two high schools at the game.
Ken Stoldt, chairman of the Section VI Football Federation, said the local football community is “deeply saddened” by Damon’s death. He urged compassion for the family and all those involved.
Brocton, a small village near Fredonia, had been coming together for Damon since word of the injury spread Friday night.
Sunday night, students gathered with parents and faculty in the high school cafeteria to talk about the severity of the injury.
Monday, students at the school wore Brocton High green in solidarity with Damon as they took to the Internet to urge others to pray for him.
“Seeing all the students wear green today and come together was truly inspiring,” one student wrote. “Sad day in the community.”
“Come on, Damon,” another said. “If anybody is strong enough to get through this, it’s you.”
But everyone’s worst fears were realized Monday night when hospital officials announced that Damon had died.