HOMER, N.Y. – A high school football player died after he was hit during a varsity game in upstate New York and suffered a head injury, a death that stunned his school community and came at a time when youth sports are under scrutiny over whether enough is being done to protect players' heads.
Ridge Barden, a 16-year-old lineman from John C. Birdlebough High School in Phoenix, was face down after the play Friday and was able to sit up, but he complained of a very bad headache and collapsed when he tried to stand, authorities said.
"The coaches and trainers went over. He was talking. He rolled on his back by himself," Phoenix School District Superintendent Judy Belfield said Saturday.
Birdlebough was playing at Homer, south of Syracuse. The hit came about six minutes into the third quarter during a play, Homer police officer Donald Warner said.
An ambulance took Barden to a hospital, and he was being transferred to a larger medical center in Syracuse when his condition deteriorated, Belfield said. The ambulance turned around, but doctors were unable to save the boy's life.
Team coaches didn't learn until after the game that his injuries were severe, Belfield said. She said the school community was distraught. Officials opened the high school Saturday to students or staff who wanted to talk about what had happened.
"It just one of those freak things," she said. "The Homer players have to be feeling just as much sadness."
The Homer Central School District posted a message on its website Saturday morning saying the community had been "deeply saddened and shares in the grief of the Phoenix School Community."
Warner, who was working at the game, said police were investigating but there was no suspicion of criminal activity.
"It looks like just a bad accident," he said.
Head injuries in football have been a concern across the country in recent years, with some medical evidence emerging to suggest that the equipment players use may not be enough to protect them from serious, long-term injuries.
A handful of high school students suffer fatal on-field injuries every fall, according to the University of North Carolina's National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. A player at Frostburg State University, in Maryland, died after suffering a head injury in a practice in August.
Belfield said the school district sends its football helmets out to be reconditioned every year, and that each has to pass a safety inspection before the season begins.
"Over the course of the past few years, they have really tried to improve the protection of the head. But there is always a risk of injury or of death," she said. She added that an investigation would be conducted to try to determine what went wrong.
In New York, a law signed this summer will require school coaches to bench student athletes who have symptoms of a concussion, a mild traumatic brain injury with symptoms such as dizziness or headaches. Students can play again only after they are symptom-free for 24 hours and cleared in writing by a doctor.