WE ALL STAND TOGETHER — The Springville-Griffith Institute football team stood in solidarity with Brocton, in a remembrance gesture at its Sept. 20 game. Photos by Dave DeLuca.
SPRINGVILLE — The following is a guest column by Journal sports correspondent Dave DeLuca.
Tragedy struck the small town of Brocton, when Damon Janes, a 16-year-old football player for the Brocton/Westfield football team, passed away after suffering the effects of an apparent head injury during a game against Portville on Sept. 13.
Brocton is a small, tight-knit community, much like the village of Springville that many of us call home.
In this community, football has always had a special spot in our hearts. In the 1980s and ‘90s, the town would shut down on Friday nights, so everyone could head out to watch the Griffins play. Everyone had one thing in common: they loved the Griffs. The tradition wore off for a few years, but the energy has returned. On Friday nights, family members, students and fans pack the bleachers and line the fence, to cheer on the home team. That’s how it is in small-town, blue-collar America. That’s how we operate. We come together to share life’s rewards and gifts to us. A game where athletes with tireless work ethics and determination are on stage, for a whole village to see. That’s what makes the Damon Janes tragedy so tough to swallow.
Football-lovers throughout Western New York cherish this sport. They know the risks of injury that comes with strapping on the shoulder pads and lacing up the cleats, but death is not in that equation. It’s beyond a parent’s worst nightmare.
“I just thought that it could have happened to anyone of us,” said S-GI senior player Andy Suffeletto, while holding back tears. “It’s just crazy how it happened. It’s so unfortunate for him to be so, so young. I’m sorry. There’s nothing you can do but pray.”
Suffeletto, a split-end and defensive back for Springville, said he plays football with a heavy heart, each and every game. He wears pink gloves and pink cleats to honor his grandmother who passed away from breast cancer, when he was 5 years old. Suffeletto was one of a number of football players that were devastated by the situation in Brocton.
BAND OF BROTHERS — S-GI players came together to remember the fallen football player.
“Whether or not he was on our team, he was still part of our family,” said Springville’s sophomore offensive tackle, Pat Hannon. “He played football, just like us. He was a part of a brotherhood, just like us. We all think football is fun, or else we wouldn’t be doing it. I hope nothing like this ever happens again.”
Janes wore his jersey to school on Fridays, just like the approximately 80 teams around Western New York do, each and every week. He truly was a part of this football community. We can attempt to compare the similarities between Brocton and Springville. We can try to imagine what kind of grieving, mourning and life-shattering emotions Brocton is enduring. In reality, we just can’t. Janes was a football player but more importantly, he was a fun-loving kid who was very popular amongst his classmates. Aside from wearing number 25 on the football field, Janes enjoyed hunting, fishing and motocross. He made Mr. and Mrs. Janes proud to call him their son.
The investigation into Janes’ death is ongoing. The initial report was that a helmet-to-helmet hit left the player unconscious. According to Mark Adair of Upstate Football Weekly, he had spoken to Portville Head Coach Gary Swetland, and there was no helmet-to-helmet collision. After watching the game film, Swetland could not find a particular play where the injury may have occurred.
That crushing blow to the community of Brocton is a very rare occurrence in football today. The Annual Survey of Football Injury Research found that, over the past 10 years, 25 high school-aged football players suffered an injury that was deemed fatal.
Coaches at Springville have taken precautions, even before Janes’ passing. Greg Hodges, head junior varsity coach at Springville, said that his team does a daily 20-25 minute drill on proper tackling.
“Coach [Bill] Dickinson and myself are very tight on correct tackling,” said Hodges. “Head up, eyes to the sky, that’s what we always say. We go over it every single day. We do a tackle progression drill daily, to make sure we’re tackling correctly.”
Hodges added that, as a coach, he also has to attend coaching clinics on concussions, to learn what to look for and how the injury can be avoided.
No matter what happened on that Friday night, right now is a time to remember Janes. To shed light on the kind of player he was, but most of all, the type of person he was.
The ceremony began Friday night, Sept. 20. The Springville-Griffith Institute Griffins took the field with two decals on the back of their helmets. One sticker was the number 25, Janes’ football number. The other sticker read, “Giving up is not an option ... 25.”
While Brocton and Springville are nearly an hour from each other, Springville will be carrying Janes in their hearts and on their heads for the rest of the season.