Phoenix High School lineman Ridge Barden was in the starting lineup for the first time in his high school career in a Friday night game against Homer. A playoff berth was on the line for the 2-4 Firebirds, as it was win or go home.
In the third quarter, Barden collided with a Homer lineman.
It appeared to be just another routine play; seconds later, however, fans, coaches and players would hold their breath as Barden remained lying on the ground.
Still lying there with what appeared to be a concussion, medical professionals tended to him, doing everything in their power on the field to get him back up on his feet, but it wasn’t enough.
After several failed tries by the medical staff, Barden would be taken in an ambulance to the hospital for further tests and help.
Meanwhile, the game resumed. Homer scored 20 straight points after Barden’s absence and defeated the Firebirds, 27-6.
However, that wasn’t the only thing on the players' and fans' minds—it was No. 70 Ridge Barden. Was he okay? How was he was doing? How long would he be out? These were all questions that would soon have an answer.
A couple hours after the game had ended, after the players had boarded the bus and the fans had cleared the bleachers, 16-year-old Ridge Barden was pronounced dead.
“Barden was a hard working kid,” said close friend Tony Gandino. “He always gave it heart no matter what, even if he knew the game was over, he gave it 100 percent, he was a great kid and great friend.”
Further tests and an autopsy revealed that "Barden died of bleeding in the brain, due to blunt force trauma as the result of a football injury."
Ridge Barden, a junior at Phoenix High School, was a hard-working student, No. 70 on the Phoenix varsity football team—a great kid who always had a smile on his face and who always had a hand to help.
“Ridge was always a nice guy. He never really hated anyone. All the good memories and times we had together will be well remembered,” said close friend Mark Felicia. “R.I.P. my friend, lost but never forgotten in our hearts.”
Calling hours took place on October 19 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Foster Funeral Home on Fay Street in Fulton, where students, players and community members all paid their dues to Ridge Barden. The next day his service was held at 10 a.m. at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, also in Fulton.
Barden will not only be remembered by the local community of just Phoenix, NY, but by the entire world, as his story and the tragic accident that took his life has touched millions and millions of peoples' hearts and millions more to come.
“Barden man we had some awesome times and I miss ya already. I’m gonna miss the first time we played call of duty and you were hiding behind the garbage can and when you spent the night and we played poker,” said Gandino. “Most of the time you were really fun to be around bud and I’m gonna miss ya, we all are gonna miss ya, the whole gang, marty, mark, migell, paul, mike, jj, all of us. We will never forget ya. Things will never be the same without ya.”
Ridge Barden made four tackles in his final game, the first start of his high school career. He lived every day for the game of football, and despite not having any colligate offers, nothing stopped him.
Everyday, he walked home from his practices to keep in shape, and to stay strong he flipped tractor trailer tires. He didn’t care that he wasn’t getting college offers, interviews, posters, newspaper articles and all of that stuff; all he cared about was his family, friends and playing the game of football—the right way and the best way.
Contributions in memory of Ridge Barden can be made to the Phoenix Football Boosters: 116 Volney Street, Phoenix, New York 13135.
Honoring Ridge Barden
A week later after the death of Ridge Barden, the Section 3 High School Football program responded to the death by honoring Barden at every high school football game on Friday night. According to Syracuse's Channel 9 news, "In memory of Barden, each school held a moment of silence to remember him before the game. The section has other plans to remember Barden as well."
Channel 9 further reported that, "According to Section 3 Executive Director John Rathbun, Barden’s death shook the high school athletics community, but it also pulled it together. He said it was never more obvious than at Barden’s funeral on Thursday."
"'The one thing that I took out is that the games got to go on, we still have to play and we still have to move forward, we're not going to forget, but we're going to learn from this situation and move forward as a group,' Rathbun said."
Channel 9 further wrote, "One of the most visible remembrances was the small stickers that players placed on their helmets in memory of Barden. The section will also honor Barden in its championship program, which includes a dedication written by a Phoenix student."
Finally, Channel 9 wrote, "It’s very heart warming to see what he wrote and that will be in the program,” Rathbun said. “Finally, at the Class B final, the Phoenix football team will be there to present the winning team with the sectional banner…so we will honor the Phoenix football team at the Sectional Final too.
"In addition to players and coaches, game officials will wear black armbands in honor of Barden throughout the remainder of the season."
Though that wasn’t all, as even Syracuse University was touched by this story as they honored the team by inviting every member to watch the Syracuse-West Virginia game that happened on Friday night.
Despite wanting to honor the team at halftime, the Orange weren’t able to because NCAA rules prohibited it.
Mike Ortiz Jr. is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.