High School Football Team Cancels Season After Player's Death

PHOTO: This undated photo provided by the Janes family, shows Westfield-Brocton high school football player Damon Janes.
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A New York high school football team has voted to cancel its season after the death of player who suffered a helmet-to-helmet collision during a game earlier this month.

Damon Janes, 16, died three days after suffering an injury and losing consciousness during a football game in Portville, N.Y. His exact cause of death has not been made public.

A week after his death on Sept. 16, Janes' teammates on the Westfield-Brocton Wolverines varsity team voted to end their football season immediately. The Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education then unanimously approved a recommendation by the superintendent to cancel the remaining season.

Janes' death has shed more light on the ongoing debate about the dangers football players face on the field. Janes is at least the fifth high school player to die this year after on-field injuries. According to a recent study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, an average of 12 high school and college players die annually.

Jeff Rabey, the superintendent of the Section VI division in New York in which the Westfield-Brocton Wolverines play, said the coaches in the area extensively reviewed their tackling instruction after Janes' death and that teams of players younger than high school age have extensively adopted the "heads up" initiative that promotes tackling in a specific form to avoid excessive injury.

"It is, you know, significant," said Rabey of the decision to end the season early. "Even though it is difficult decision, it is the right decision, especially because it was fostered in conversations between players and coaches."

In the wake of the cancelled season, some of Janes' teammates are explaining why they felt they had to end the season.

Sam Villafrank, whose son, Joey, played on the team, was watching from the sidelines during the Portville game and said he was concerned that some of the rough play was not penalized.

"There was a lot of hitting after the play was over," said Villafrank. "My son ended up in a fistfight in [connection with] a hit well after the play was over."

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Joey Villafrank, 17, who has played football since the third grade, said he voted to end the season because "the game is no longer safe because the referees no longer throw flags."

School officials did not immediately return phone calls for comment.

In the small New York communities of Brocton and Westfield, a memorial and benefits have been planned to help Janes' family. But in addition to planning spaghetti dinners and silent auctions, the community is coming to grips with Janes' death and what it could mean for future football seasons.

Julie Fortner, owner Nickel Plate Depot, is hosting a spaghetti dinner and large benefit to raise money for Janes' family. She said reaction to cancelling the football season has been mixed.

"We're a super-close community. Everyone knows everyone here," said Fortner. "We get mixed reactions here. [Some say] they shouldn't end the season, but it's understandable."

Fortner said parents were also talking about having their children wear Noggin headgear, a protective cap worn under the helmet that claims to help cushion the blows during football tackles.

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"Parents are really pushing for that," said Fortner. "But they're concerned [that] Damon hurt his head before [the game] maybe. They want CAT scans available so it wouldn't happen."

The Noggin company has designed a cap with Janes' initials and jersey number that will be sold to benefit the Janes family.

Head injuries in football have come under increased scrutiny in recent years as concussions have been shown to possibly result in brain damage later on.

In August, the National Football League agreed pay $765 million to retired football players who sued the league over head injuries that they attributed to their time playing pro football.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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