News : 2011 : October

Tragic and Rare: Coming to terms with the death of a Phoenix varsity football player

The Post Standard

(Syracuse, NY) So — what’s a parent to think? One minute, 16-year-old Ridge Barden is a strapping junior lineman making his varsity football debut for Phoenix at Homer. The next minute he’s on the ground, telling his coach, “I think I got hit head-to-head.” Two hours later he’s dead, the victim of a massive subdural hematoma — bleeding in the brain.

What about his fellow Firebirds? What about high school football players from Homer and throughout Central New York and the nation? What is the appropriate response for parents who want only the best for their offspring — including the opportunity to play football, learning valuable life lessons from victory, defeat, team play and sportsmanship? Is the all-American sport suddenly and unacceptably hazardous to teenagers’ health?

It is small consolation to Barden’s parents that neither their son nor anyone else appears to have done anything wrong. It was even hard to see the traumatic, helmet-to-helmet hit that must have caused this injury — like you might sustain in a major car crash, or falling from a two-story window.

Barden’s helmet was state-of-the-art, inspected and reconditioned. As soon as he fell to the ground, he was attended to by Firebirds coach Jeff Charles and medical staff. He was taken by stretcher to an ambulance in the school parking lot and treated before being rushed to Cortland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

There was no way to predict this tragic event, says Dr. Ricardo Komotar, a neurosurgeon and head trauma specialist at the University of Miami Hospital, himself a former high school football star. “My guess is that he got hit in the wrong spot at the wrong time at high velocity,” Komotar told staff writer Paul Riede. “In terms of what you can learn and how to prevent it, I think the answer is zero. I think it’s a freak injury.”