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Open Mike: North Collins among schools remembering Brocton’s Damon Janes

MOURNING, HONORING — Players and coaches from North Collins’ and Eden’s girls soccer teams take a moment to remember Brocton’s Damon Janes, who died three days after sustaining a hit to his head during a football game on Sept. 13. A statement from Section VI was also read here, by coach Tim Flanagan. Pictured, left: Lake Shore was like some football teams, wearing a decal of Jane’s No. 26 at football games this weekend. Photos by Ron Larson.

It did not matter that North Collins has no football program. The athletics department at the small school, straddling the county line between Erie and Chautauqua, sought to find a way to support the Brocton community after the death of one of its football players, three days after he absorbed a blow to the head on a tackle, during a Sept. 13 game against Portville.

It did not matter the sport or the proximity of the school from Brocton – a small village outside of Fredonia – the Western New York athletics community, as whole, felt a loss from the death of 16-year-old junior running back Damon Janes.

Football teams from all around the area remembered Janes and lent support to his family and friends and the Brocton community, with a moment of silence at all games played during this past weekend. Some teams also wore a decal with the young athlete’s number on the back of the helmets.

It wasn’t just the football community that rallied to show support. Various sports teams from a number of schools expressed their solidarity as one athletics community, by recognizing the tragedy and its significance. It didn’t take having a football team for North Collins to get involved.

Last week, after speaking with first-year athletic director Katie Shelley, both North Collins’ boys and girls soccer teams took a moment before each of their home games to march their teams and the opponents over to the fans’ sideline, where coaches Jay Walters and Tim Flanagan read statements provided by Section VI, in the wake of the tragedy.

“Within the athletic community, it doesn’t matter the sport. When something like that happens, your heart goes out to the family, because it could have happened to anyone, anywhere,” said Flanagan, the Eagles’ girls’ team coach. “We felt this was necessary to bring home the significance of what had happened and show our support, especially being in the Southern Tier.”

The statement addressed the sadness felt by so many and some of the concerns that have stemmed from the tragedy. Flanagan acknowledged a serious head injury could just as well have happened on a soccer field, so the incident hit close to home. It was also a way to show solidarity with Brocton, a neighbor and fellow Chautauqua Cattaraugus Athletic Association division opponent in some sports. After the reading of the statement, a moment of silence was observed.

“It was powerful, “ said Flanagan, whose team played Eden that day. “You could hear a pin drop.

“All the kids have been talking about it; it’s something that really sits with you,” he added, about the tragedy. “A moment of silence may not be enough, but it was something. We asked ourselves what could we do to show support for Brocton – the school, the young man’s family and friends and their entire community.”

Back on the football fields, the emotions were just as powerful. All across WNY, such as in the Southtowns, where Lake Shore wore a decal with Janes’ No. 25 on Friday evening, he was remembered.

Dave Hersey does not know the players or coaches at Brocton, but, when asked, was visibly saddened at the mention of the tragedy that struck that community. He is not only the head coach of the St. Mary’s football team, but also the father of a football player on the team – his son Justin, so he knows all too well what it’s like to be a parent of a player and a supporter of a game, which he said can be violent and physical.

“I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it, because if anything like that happened to one of my kids, I can’t tell you if I could even go on. That’s something really tough to overcome,” said Hersey, who spoke about the incident with Portville coach Gary Swetland, who played for Dave’s father, Tom, at Canisius College in the late-1970s. Hersey added that, as expected, this tragedy has been very difficult for Portville’s team and school community.

“It’s a tragedy no matter how [he lost his life]. He’s a football player and we’re all kind of part of a big fraternity,” Hersey added. “It’s a game and when kids lose their lives, it doesn’t have that game connotation anymore. It’s kind of like the shine wears off the trophy...When something happens to a kid from Section VI, it hurts; it hurts everybody,” he added.

It’s a fraternity that extends out to all sports and athletic communities around WNY, especially last week, in the wake of what happened. As Hersey said, “it’s tough pill to swallow,” but one WNY is trying to do together.


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