MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The varsity football season has been canceled for the team from Westfield/Brocton High Schools in western New York State. The unanimous decision came from the Westfield school board, after the death this month of 16-year-old running back Damon Janes. He sustained a severe head injury during a game and died three days later. The Westfield school superintendent said the decision to call off the season will allow this team to remain together and heal in private, away from the bright lights and public eye.
Keith McShea has been writing about this for The Buffalo News and he joins me now. And, Keith, talk a bit first about this community. It looks like it's a very tiny community along Lake Erie that's going through just excruciating grief right now.
KEITH MCSHEA: Yeah, it's two communities, two small communities, like you said, on Lake Erie. Westfield and Brocton are about eight miles apart. They field a combined team because they are two small schools and football is obviously a sport where you need a good roster numbers to field a team. And both communities are grieving and, you know, have been grieving over this since the incident two Fridays ago.
BLOCK: Well, let's talk about that game earlier this month and what happened to Damon Janes. He'd ended up suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. What have you heard about what happened on the field?
MCSHEA: Well, the Westfield/Brocton folks have not commented on, you know, anything regarding the situation, which is understandable considering the scope and the grieving that they're going through. The opposing coach, the opposing team was Portville and I've talked to Coach Gary Swetland about what happened. And Janes, he actually had scored a touchdown earlier in the game, Janes did. And in the third quarter, there was a point where Janes walked off the field. And at some point, the coach of Westfield/Brocton motion to the officials and to the opposing coach and requested medical attention for a player who was down on the sideline.
I think shortly thereafter, or a few plays later, the coach came on again and said that this was a serious situation and that the player would have to be taken to the hospital. And at that point, the game was called.
BLOCK: So, if I have this right, Damon Janes took a hard hit, walked off the field and lost consciousness after that. Is that right?
MCSHEA: Yes, according to the Portville coach that's the way things unfolded that night.
BLOCK: This has to be so devastating for the players and for the coaches and everybody in these communities. The Westfield school superintendent says he spoke with the team about the rest of season, right before he recommended canceling in the end?
MCSHEA: He did and that was one thing we were interested in finding out from him. And he did, you know, consult with the team and the coaches and administrations from both of the schools involved. The seed that, you know, kind of germinated from the team level, you know, that puts it in perspective that the team might not ready to take the field again.
BLOCK: You know, I have to say I've been taken aback by some of the comments I've been reading online from folks who are really angry about the season being canceled. One writer said this, that the lesson to the team should have been: Face a challenge head on rather than give up, we've become a culture of coddlers.
Have you been hearing a lot of that strain of thought, as well?
MCSHEA: I've seen some of the similar online comments and, you know, to discuss online comments, I think, needs the smallest grain of salt. I think it's somewhat understandable for people to, you know, outside the communities to say that to cancel the season is not a good idea or, you know, they could have rallied behind him and played in tribute to him, and things like that. And I can understand people saying that from the outside, but it's an almost unprecedented situation, certainly for that community, to be dealing with.
And like I referenced before, for the superintendent to survey his community and both communities, and then make that decision, I think that's the right thing to do.
BLOCK: Keith McShea covers high school sports for The Buffalo News. Keith, thanks for talking with us.
MCSHEA: Thank you.