BROCTON - While 16-year-old Brocton junior and football player Damon W. Janes may have left this world, his memory clearly lives on in the Brocton/Westfield community.
Around 1,500 people attended a candlelight vigil, organized primarily by Damon's classmates, Wednesday evening at the Brocton Central School football field. Several moments of silence were observed throughout the vigil, which was attended by friends, family, teachers, classmates, teammates and loved ones.
Close friends and family members formed a tight circle in the center of the football field before the public was invited down from the bleachers to surround the sidelines on all four sides.
Above and below, sky lanterns are released by classmates and teammates of the late Brocton School junior and football player Damon Janes during a candlelight vigil at the Brocton football field Wednesday evening. Family members of Damon wait to release balloons in the background. At bottom, the Brocton scoreboard was lit up with Damon’s favorite number, 711, as well as his football jersey number, 25.
Photos by Greg Fox
One family that attended the vigil reflected on Damon's life after the ceremony.
"He was a good-hearted soul. This is absolutely unbelievable," Westfield resident Alla McMurray, a substitute teacher at Brocton, said. "He was such a young, good soul. He would talk to me and be very, very friendly. Like I said, not everyone talks to the substitute. His heart showed and he was always friendly to everybody and my heart aches for him now. He just always made me feel welcome and he listened and goofed around. He was just a good kid. It's really just devastating."
"It's hard to believe he's gone. You've got to go with it and move on, I guess," Daniel McMurray, a teammate of Damon's, said. Daniel is a year younger than Damon was.
During the vigil, the scoreboard displayed the number 711, Damon's favorite number, as well as the number 25, Damon's football jersey number.
The ceremony started off with the Janes family silently walking hand-in-hand onto the football field. After the family had taken its place in the field's center, a motocross bike engine revved in the distance before a close friend of Damon's drove a lap around the stadium on Damon's bike. The bike boasted Damon's name, as well as the number 711. The biker came to rest in front of the bleachers near the 50-yard line before he put the kickstand up and silently walked away for all to view it.
Motocross biking was one of Damon's many passions, making the lap around the football field a fitting tribute to the two sports at which he excelled.
The ceremony continued as "I Will Remember You," by Sarah McLachlan, among other songs, played through the stadium speakers. During that time, classmates and teachers of Damon's lit votive candles on the football field in the shape of the number 25. About 25 sky lanterns were then lit and released into the pink, sunset-lit sky by classmates and teammates. Pink was Damon's favorite color.
Sayings such as, "We love you" and, "Living the dream" were written on the lanterns ahead of time, which were released as "Amazing Grace" was sung. The Janes family then released white helium balloons to chase after the sky lanterns before a prayer was read by an announcer from the press box.
Everyone in the stadium then lit their candles, just before the sunlight began to fade from the sky.
Many people said they were touched by the ceremony, which could be seen in the tears in their eyes.
"The ceremony went great. I thought it was pretty good for two small towns, probably as big as something like this called for, it couldn't be much bigger," Brian McMurray said.
Damon, a running back, suffered a severe head injury during a varsity football game between Brocton and Westfield's combined team and Portville Central School on Friday. Shortly after a helmet-to-helmet collision during the third quarter, Damon lost consciousness and was rushed to Women & Children's Hospital at Buffalo, where he died on Monday.
The New York State Sportswriters Association reported that 25 American high school football players suffered fatal injuries between 2003 and 2013. Also, three scholastic athletes statewide, including Damon, have died while taking part in fall sports within the past three years. Those numbers include sixteen-year-old Ridge Barden of Phoenix, who collapsed during a football game in 2011 due to bleeding in his brain unleashed by blunt force trauma.
A second gathering on the Brocton football field for Damon will take place Friday at 7 p.m. During that time, more sky lanterns will be released in his honor. The lanterns can be purchased for $3 each, with proceeds benefiting the Janes family.
In addition to numerous other fundraising events organized in Damon's honor, the Buffalo Bills fan club, the Bills Mafia, announced on its website Wednesday that it will be selling phone cases with its logo imprinted on them in order to raise money for the Janes family, which will receive 100 percent of the proceeds. To view the announcement, or to purchase a phone case, go to www.billsmafia.com.
Brocton Superintendent John Hertlein wished to thank the Brocton and Portland fire departments, as well as the Chautauqua County Fire Police, for regulating traffic for the vigil.