On Friday night, the Phoenix Firebirds played their first game of the season since the death of 16-year-old lineman Ridge Barden last October.
Barden died of bleeding to the brain sustained from forceful contact during a game. He was dead within hours.
"We've been pretty emotional, but kids are moving on," said Phoenix head coach Jeff Charles. "And they know Ridge is with us every step of the way. I don't think I have to mention Ridge's name today. I think they know he's watching us right now."
The opposing Cato-Meridian team felt the loss, too. "It's going to be very emotional," said senior quarterback Kyle Mapley. "We're going to have to keep our heads straight, and put it behind us and just play football."
New York State does have legislation in place to try and prevent athlete head injuries. The Concussion Management and Awareness Act requires that coaches and teachers be certified in handling concussions. Additionally, any player who sustains a concussion during play is immediately removed and may not return until given medical clearance.
One classmate of Barden's believes the team will be able to move on from the tragic accident. "It feels like a missing piece, but they'll put it back together this season," said Cassandra Palocy. "They always do. It's Phoenix."