PORTVILLE — It was the dreaded phone call Portville Central School officials hoped would never come.
With a collectively heavy heart they learned of Westfield/Brocton football player Damon W. Janes’ passing Monday. He was 16.
But while Mr. Janes was carted from Portville’s sidelines after reportedly sustaining a hard hit in the third quarter of last Friday night’s contest, the devastating impact has been felt all around the Big 30 — and beyond.
Portville football coach Gary Swetland said Mr. Janes “was a running back — and a fine one.”
“Our heart goes out to the Janes family. It’s just a tragic, tragic circumstance,” Coach Swetland said. “Our players are saddened, our families are saddened, our school is saddened, our coaches are saddened, our officials are saddened, bus drivers, everybody. There is no one who isn’t desperately saddened by this.”
The Westfield/Brocton junior, Coach Swetland said, reached the sideline under his own power following the on-field incident. Shortly after, he added, play was stopped for professionals to offer medical attention.
Mr. Janes was transported to Olean General Hospital and later to the Intensive Care Unit at Women & Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, where, according to hospital officials cited in numerous media reports, he was pronounced dead Monday afternoon.
“At the time, you certainly never anticipate anything like this. I spoke with their coach a couple times after the contest was over and people were headed back home,” Coach Swetland said. “Then we received information that this had gotten to be very, very serious.
“By Saturday I was in contact with our superintendent, and we were just basically trying to do what we could as respectfully and politely as we could, without overstepping any boundaries.”
And those boundaries have been well established, said an understanding Portville Superintendent Tom Simon. While he said the district has been in contact with Westfield/Brocton school officials, the Janes family has requested privacy.
“They’ve asked for privacy and we’ve respected that,” Mr. Simon said. “I think as a community, our hearts ache, not only as educators but also as parents. They ache for the tragedy that has occurred. We will continue to do our best to reach out to Brocton and Westfield communities and Damon’s family to offer our support.”
Coach Swetland added, “I have not spoken with the Janes family. I have only spoken with their coach and extended our deepest sympathy and respect for their player.”
And there’s a related matter of support services to players on the field at the time. Mr. Simon said those conversations with admittedly shaken students have been and will continue to be administered through counseling services already in place at PCS.
“We continue be in touch with (our students) and touching base with them,” the superintendent said. “We will do whatever necessary and have counseling services to meet their needs.”
In response to Mr. Janes’ passing, an area high school football observer offered his sympathy on social media.
“Probably played more than 90 football games and coached at least that many in my life and never once has anything like this ever happened,” wrote Big 30 committeeman Randy Henderson in a Facebook post. “Words cannot describe how I feel today. My condolences to the family of the young man from the Westfield Brocton football team. RIP young man.”
Buffalo media outlet WGRZ released a statement from Women & Children’s Hospital, stating Mr. Janes “lost his fight and went to be with the Lord following his injury resulting from a helmet-to-helmet collision during a Westfield/Brocton varsity football game.”
The young man’s parents, in a statement through the hospital published on The Buffalo News website, “expressed their gratitude to those who have supported and prayed for Damon and his family.”
Though multiple reports have claimed the death was a result of a “helmet-to-helmet” collision, both Coach Swetland and Mr. Simon declined to comment on that assessment.
“It’s not the time or the place,” Coach Swetland said. “It’s a time to extend our condolences and sincere regret to the Janes family.”
“I think that’s something that will have to be carefully reviewed,” added Mr. Simon. “That’s something that will happen in the subsequent days and weeks, I’m sure. Everyone will continue to seek answers to this horrible event.”
In 27 years as a high school football coach — 22 as Portville’s head man — Coach Swetland said he doesn’t remember any similar incidents. According to Times Herald records, the last local football player to die as a direct result of injuries sustained during a game was Archbishop Walsh’s Mike Dwyer in 1977 at Olean’s Bradner Stadium.
“I can’t recall any deaths, no. And you hope you never will. You always hope,” Coach Swetland said. “Every year there are players, which often seem to be far away and far removed, experiencing heat strokes and fatigue-based collapses and head-to-head collisions and all kinds of things. In this instance, these tragic events visited our own neighborhoods and communities.”
(Contact reporter Kelsey M. Boudin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @KelseyMBoudin)