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Local family leads grassroots charge for sports concussion management

August 30, 2014
By Ann Belcher - , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

BROCTON - In the small communities of northern Chautauqua County, it's no secret that when there's a need, community members respond in a large way. Friends come out in a big crowd to attend big events, and let their hearts lead the way for big fundraising.

The turnout for the Damon Janes Memorial Event Sunday at the Nickel Plate Depot in Brocton showed that this part of western New York now leads in a big way for state legislation that will keep children safe from sports-related head injuries on all athletic fields.

Speaking from the stage at the Nickel Plate, where three music bands entertained the crowds, State Sen. Cathy Young thanked Damon's parents, Dean Janes and Penny Gilbert-Robinson, for hosting her, as well as the organizers for a successful event.

Article Photos

Photo by Ann Belcher
Riders take part in pit bike racing from The Nickel Plate Depot in Brocton at the Damon Janes Memorial Event Sunday. The event honored Damon’s life and the sports he loved to participate in, as well as raised funds for a scholarship to be given in his memory.

"Losing Damon was very hard; very tough; and very bittersweet. But we're also here to celebrate Damon's life, and to make sure that we do something positive so that the loss experienced by Dean and Penny and their families can help someone else down the road. It's for that reason that Dean and family member Arden Johnson first met with me in my office and expressed that they wanted to do something so that families would not experience the same type of tragedy as they had losing Damon, and we discussed ways that we could help do that. As many of you know, in 2011, New York state passed concussion management legislation so that a student who had sustained a concussion would be taken out immediately from play, and protected," Young said.

"We further want to make sure that cutting-edge technology and education get out to coaches, and schools, and not sit on a shelf. By continuing to sustain those efforts in New York state to protect our precious children, I'm pleased to announce that New York state has passed legislation this year, and that on August 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into legislation the creation of a special council so that the Department of Health and the Department of Education in New York state can keep on top of cutting-edge developments in concussion management and to ensure that the necessary information gets out to coaches, schools, and trainers, all across New York state, and I'd like to thank Damon's family for their tireless work on this."

After presenting Damon's mother and father with an official "pen certificate" of the legislation, framed with an actual pen used by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the legal document into law, Sen. Young presented both parents with an official resolution adopted into New York state government's record books in June, the month of Damon's birth, in true spirit of celebrating his young life.

Senate Resolution 05978 describes Damon as a "true country boy" who "made a full effort with everything he did in life and thoroughly embodied his motto of 'Giving up is simply not an option,'" and "who will remain in the hearts and prayers of those who knew and loved him and the tremendous positive influence he had on so many in so few years will forever endear him to those touched by his life."

A celebration of Damon's life was in every part of the event held Sunday, through which the proceeds are to be donated to a memorial scholarship in his name at Brocton and Westfield school districts. Damon was playing on a combined football team, made up of players from both districts, at the time of his passing on Sept. 16, 2013.

Chris Sausaman, who along with Nickel Plate owners Julie and Doug Fortner steered a group of hard-working volunteers to carry the event to fruition, spoke on keeping Damon's memory at the forefront.

"We don't want Damon's memory to fade. He offered so much of his life to his teammates, his friends, and his family. He was just a special kid to many. And I've been asked by so many people in helping organize this. 'Why has there been such a big, national response to what happened to this young kid?' and 'Why was this such a huge rally for the community?' and I guess, I don't really have a definitive answer to that except that 'It's Damon. It's his huge personality, and the way I'm told that he led his young life in such a big way.' And if there's anything I would want people to take away from today's event, it's a celebration of his life and who he was, as well as a heightened awareness regarding safety in sports with our children."

The day's events included a chicken barbecue, the sale of bracelets and custom-made bandanas by Vacanti's Extreme Signs, and a track for pit bike racing sponsored by 3 Seas Recreation, lending to Damon's love for motorized bike racing. There were also bounce houses, a dunk tank, music entertainment by The Mockingbirds, Derek Davis and The Tasty Groove and 10 Minutes and Counting; as well as a 50/50 drawing and the raffle of a pit pike; capped off by a touching tribute to Damon with a lantern ceremony in the evening.

Damon's life was beautifully displayed in a Remembrance Tent, which featured a moving display of photos, a memory book to sign, as well as awards from the young sportsman's career of football and racing. A motorcycle run of approximately 70 bikes led off the day's events and provided an auditory backdrop for the community to celebrate who Damon was as a young man.

Young explained, "It's important to pay attention to this issue and to make sure that all the technologies are cutting-edge and up-to-date. New York state really led the way in the country in 2011 by signing the concussion management and the legislative bill that was just signed makes that action even stronger. With the Department of Health and the State Education Department, a special committee is going to insure that the best practices are kept up-to-date, and to communicate to coaches, athletic trainers, educators and parents."

The next step in the process will be to decide who will serve on the committee, and the senator went on to commend Damon's parents for taking such an active role in changing the future of young athletes after their tremendous loss.

"Knowledge and education are power, and the more people understand the better. I admire this family deeply for taking their own personal tragedy and turning that into something very positive and for sincerely wanting to protect other young people across the whole state."

Baseline tests are currently being mandated for schools to rule out any health precursors for students to participate in sports, and use of preventative equipment such as Noggins (which have made their way to the heads of student athletes in Damon's memory) are helping to intervene in fatal injuries on the field.



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