The tragic coincidence of two high school football players dying in the Westfield community unfortunately extends beyond the playing field.
A distant family relationship reveals that 16-year-old Brocton junior Damon Janes, who died Monday afternoon from injuries he suffered during the third quarter of last Friday night's game at Portville, was related to Brett Smith, a 17-year-old Westfield Academy senior, who died in 1975 after suffering a brain aneurysm during a football game.
Janes' great-great-aunt, Marilyn Johnson, was the first cousin, once removed, of Smith.
"It's a bit of a distant relationship, but still a tragic coincidence," said Randy Johnson, Janes' first cousin, twice removed. "To have this happen on both sides of the family is just so unfortunate."
Johnson, a former resident of Ellery, only knew Janes as an infant, but was childhood friends with Smith.
"We used to go swimming and hunting together," Johnson said. "We were only three or four years apart."
Though unconfirmed, it is believed that Smith's aneurysm was precipitated by trauma induced in the football game. The compounding of his death with Janes' own football-related tragedy is a harsh blow to a family that has always taken pride in the sport.
"I do think football is a tradition in the family," said Johnson. "It's still a good sport."
With all of the national discussion about helmet-to-helmet hits, Johnson said football coaches must make sure players are learning to hit properly.
"More attention needs to be given to training, safety equipment and the rules of the game," Johnson said. "It shouldn't just be about getting (wins)."