By Craig Harvey
The Brocton and Westfield community endured a tragic event over the weekend as 16-year-old Brocton junior Damon Janes was injured during a football game Friday night and died Monday afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Westfield community, it was the second time in 38 years a football player died.
In 1975, Brett Smith was a 17-year-old senior at Westfield Academy.
Following a play against Falconer, Smith suffered a brain aneurysm and collapsed on the sidelines. By the time he reached St. Vincent's Hospital, he was pronounced dead.
After hearing of Janes' death, then-Westfield coach Mike Cluchey had flashbacks of that horrible evening in 1975.
"He was on defense and he was a defensive back," Cluchey recalled, speaking to the OBSERVER by phone from Indiana on Monday. "It wasn't so much a hit.
We went through the film. A protective agency took his helmet and they did an inspection. They couldn't find anything. As it turned out, Brett had an aneurysm that burst. Whether banging around had anything to do with it, I don't know. Our local doctor was there and said he came off the field and collapsed. He believed there was nothing we could have done. It was going to happen eventually, so the injury was tragic, but it made it more tragic it was during the football game."
Westfield-Brocton's scheduled game for Friday night against Ellicottville has been postponed, as well as all sports for Brocton and Westfield this week. That news came as relief for Cluchey who remembers just how difficult that following week was for himself and the players. After a week of practice and burying Smith, the Wolverines pushed their game back three days and played the following Monday at Randolph.
"It was horrible," Cluchey said. "We had to go back to practice. We were forced into playing on a Monday following his funeral. The game ended in a 0-0 tie. To make us play the Monday after we buried him, the kids couldn't handle it and I couldn't handle it. The rest of the year was tough. It was an extremely difficult time."
As for Janes' injury, Cluchey passed along his condolences to the family.
"I think it's horrible," he said. "You feel so sorry for the family. That young man was out there having fun and something like this happens. I don't know how parents can handle this."
Cluchey learned a lesson that still stings to this day, but passed along the following bit of advice to everyone mourning the loss of Janes.
"My heart goes out to (coach Bob North)," he continued. "I know how much it ate me up. You just have to try to find a way to go on. It's not (coach North's) fault or any coach's fault. It's not the kid he hit's fault. It's just something that happens. You can't blame anyone for it."