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High School Football Player Dies From Head Injury in N.Y.

A seemingly routine play turned quickly tragic on Friday night in Phoenix, N.Y., as a student-athlete was declared dead roughly two hours after sustaining a head injury during a high school football game.

Ridge Barden, a 16-year-old junior at John C. Birdlebough High School, got his first varsity start on Friday night as a defensive tackle. In the third quarter, with the opposing Homer High School nearing the end zone, the Homer team ran a routine run play on third down and got stuffed short of the goal line.

The New York Times sets the scene for what happened next:

A seemingly typical play run thousands of times in countless high school football games each weekend. There were no pounding hits or awkward takedowns. No reason for each player not to get up from the pile and return to his huddle. Yet one player remained on the field too long after the play was over. With everyone else on their feet, defensive tackle Ridge Barden was face down on the field.

Barden's coach and team doctors ran to attend to him, where at first, he was talking and appeared coherent. But within minutes, Barden collapsed after trying to stand and had to be taken from the field on a stretcher, according to WSYR-TV in Syracuse.


The boy was taken to a hospital initially and was being transferred to a larger medical facility in Syracuse when his condition deteriorated, the Associated Press reported. The paramedics in the ambulance attempted to turn around, but were unable to save Barden's life.

The autopsy results revealed that Barden died from a cerebral hemorrhage, a result of the football injury he sustained Friday night.

"Ridge was a dedicated team player and someone who gave 100% to every practice and game," read a statement on the Phoenix Central school district's website. "Ridge was also a kind, caring young man who was devoted to his family. We will miss his smile, enthusiasm, and dedication to the football and wrestling teams at Phoenix."

Lessons to Learn

Now, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did recently sign the state's concussion law, which requires any student-athlete suspected of a concussion to be immediately removed from play and not allowed to return until he/she receives medical clearance.

But keep in mind that the new concussion law wouldn't have helped in Barden's case, anyway. It's not like he went to the sidelines after sustaining his head injury, then decided to return to play. The damage had already been done by the time doctors rushed out to the field to attend to him.

Remember, no matter how advanced football helmets become, they still won't prevent all concussions.

Helmets "certainly help to mitigate forces that are distributed by impact to the skull and the intracranial cavity and the brain," said Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, a professor of sport science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, during a panel discussion earlier this summer.

"But the brain is still going to move inside that cranial cavity regardless of whether there's a helmet on or not." (Last month, Dr. Guskiewicz was named a recipient of a "Genius Grant" from the MacArthur Foundation for his research on concussions.)

In other words: Think of your brain as an egg yolk and your skull as an egg shell. While the shell protects the yolk from escaping and leaking everywhere, the egg yolk can still move rather freely inside that shell. If you shake said egg shell back and forth, the yolk will slam against the walls of the shell.

The same thing happens to brains, even when protected by football helmets.

Given football's nature as an inherently dangerous sport, student-athletes and their parents should understand the potential risks every time they step onto the football field.

But no parent should be forced to mourn the loss of his or her child because of youth sports.

What's the solution? How can schools ensure the safety of student-athletes? There's no easy answer.

That said, The Atlantic offers a great starting point in an article today about the evolution of sports medicine:

For now, however, the best defense is a good offense—minimizing head contact, wearing appropriate protective equipment, recognizing symptoms, and getting proper treatment are the best ways to prevent and mend sports injuries.

Unfortunately, Barden won't be the last student-athlete to die as a result of sports. One can only hope that his death will inspire an even greater focus on student-athlete safety, saving other student-athletes' lives in the process.

Photo: Ridge Barden a 16-year-old lineman from John C. Birdlebough High School in Phoenix, N.Y., died after he was hit during a high school football game on Oct. 14. (Barden Family via AP)

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