High school player, 16, dies after hit

A 16-year-old high school running back has died after a head-on collision during a game Friday night.

Damon Janes of Westfield-Brocton (N.Y.) High walked off the field under his own power Friday during a game against Portville. But shortly after he reached the sideline, he lost consciousness and was taken to a hospital.

Janes died Monday.

The specific cause of death has not been determined, but according to reports, Janes succumbed to injuries sustained during a helmet-to-helmet collision.

The high school football community in western New York spent the weekend rallying in support of Janes and his family and were devastated by the news Monday night of James’ death.

"Our heart goes out to the Janes family," Portville coach Gary Swetland told the Oleans (N.Y.) Times Herald. "It’s just a tragic, tragic circumstance. 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."

Many have also expressed sympathy for the boy on the other end of the collision, who has not been named in media reports. He was not reported to have been injured on the play.

Although media reports and eyewitness accounts link Janes’ injuries to a helmet-to-helmet collision in the third quarter of Friday’s game, both coaches involved have deflected attempts to confirm that, saying those issues would all be sorted out in due time.

Whether that will actually happen is uncertain. Reports indicate the area hasn’t seen a football-related death since 1977, and it is unclear who would conduct a formal investigation. The New York State Department of Education told the Buffalo News it doesn’t typically investigate this kind of incident. Most likely, any formal conclusions drawn on this incident will be done so by the two schools involved and the medical examiner.

There are about 1.1 million high school football players each year in the United States, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. A 2011 University of North Carolina study revealed the rate of fatalities directly related to football actions (blocking, tackling, etc.) to be .18 per 100,000 players that year. That figure doesn’t include indirect deaths, most commonly from heat stroke.

Until 2012, there had been at least one direct football-related death at the high school level every year since 1994, though those numbers were down considerably from the ’60s and ’70s. An average of 14.9 kids died every year from football injuries between 1966 and 1976, which is the year the blocking and tackling technique known as “spearing” was banned. That was the last year the rate of direct fatalities was more than one per 100,000.

Fatalities dropped significantly thereafter, with 11 deaths in 1986 being the only double-digit total since that rule change.

But after an encouraging 2012, two high school players have already died from football injures this season. Last month in College Park, Ga., DeAntre Turman died after suffering a broken neck during a scrimmage.

“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,” Swetland told the Times Herald. “In this instance, these tragic events visited our own neighborhoods and communities.”