Fatal teen victim of Gaelic football to be remembered

A player who was died after playing Gaelic Football at a Bronx field more than six decades ago is being honored with a memorial plaque – along with attendance by an assemblyman pushing for helmet safety for younger athletes.

A long-overdue monument to Billy Feighery, a 16-year-old who died from a head injuries sustained while playing in the sport in 1948, will be dedicated at 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, at Gaelic Park at West 240th Street and Broadway.

East Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benedetto is scheduled to speak at the ceremony. He has been pushing a pioneering bill in Albany to protect children 13 and under from concussions in youth sports.

Legislation that he has championed in the Assembly would ban sports like tackle football for very young children, has yet to gain traction in the Senate, but it may be ahead of its time.

Indeed, Benedetto said that some of his colleagues said he may very well be ahead of the curve on this by as much as 10 years, and he understands this as part of the political process.

Benedetto said that he is attending the event to “show solidarity” with the Feighery family, and to raise awareness.

“I hope to join with his brother in bringing awareness to the dangers of head injuries, concussions in particular,” he said.

Billy’s brother, Kevin Feighery, who was not yet born when Billy died, picked up the effort to get the monument dedicated from another one of his brothers, Frank, who was shepherding the project for five years before his death.

“The point is to never let things go and to always remember,” he said, adding that at the time of Billy’s death it was a big news story, possibly because young people did not play organized sports as much in the 1940s as they do today.

According to Feighery, newspaper clippings from shortly after the May 2, 1948 tragedy stated that there were plans back then to a memorial, which for one reason or another, never came to fruition until now.

“These guys are still playing these Irish football games, and they are still not wearing helmets,” said Feighery. “My brother is the only one in the history of these Irish sports games to have died because of an injury, but how many guys have gotten concussions and not done anything about it?”

To provide a professional perspective on the current state of head injuries in sports, Dina Pagnotta, a director from the concussion center at NYU Medical Center, will speak and be available for questions during the plaque dedication ceremony.

Ironically, Feighery said he initially encountered some resistance to the plaque dedication – not from the MTA, which owns Gaelic Park, or from Manhattan College, which leases it and was very helpful. The resistance came from some of the players, old-guard Gaelic footballers who might be hesitant to recognize that this happened.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 742–3393. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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