On a night dedicated to a teammate whose focus in life has been altered, Central High football coach Barry Gardner is asking his players to rededicate themselves. Several government bodies in Hernando County have declared tonight Chuck Hackney Night. Hackney is the Central High linebacker, running back, wrestler and weightlifter who was paralyzed in a July
4 accident at Buccaneer Bay water park in Weeki Wachee Spring.
Hackney has been hospitalized at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and at Tampa General Rehabilitation Center since the accident, which left his legs, left arm and both hands paralyzed. He began rehabilitation Sept.
The Central High senior may be in attendance at the Bears' game tonight against Hawthorne, athletic director Vernon Turner said.
"We all have our fingers crossed," Turner said. "Of course, if he does make it, it will be a very emotional night."
The 7 p.m. game will be played at Hernando High's Tom Fisher Stadium in Brooksville. Turner said halftime activities include the retirement of Hackney's jersey, No.
The game will be covered by HITV (Channel 12 in Hernando County) and broadcast at 7 p.m. Monday. A fund-raiser for the Hackney Trust Fund Benefit will be held Monday night at the Fireside Inn in Brooksville, where the game will be shown on the restaurant's big-screen television.
The Bears (4-2) dedicated their season to Hackney. They have lost their last two games, to Sarasota-Cardinal Mooney and Clermont, due in part to 10 lost fumbles and seven interceptions.
"I've talked to them about rededicating themselves to this season," Gardner said, "because they seemed to have lost their dedication and sense of concentration for the past two weeks."
Picking this week to bounce back is as good as any; Hawthorne (0-7) has been outscored 183-18. An extra incentive for the Bears is the Hornets beat Central for their only victory last season.
Gardner said senior quarterback Alex DeGracia is scheduled to start for the Bears. DeGracia was nursing an ankle sprain and was replaced as starter by sophomore Tyrone Goodson against Clermont.
Goodson leads Central receivers with 12 catches. But he played much of the first half at quarterback and completed 3-of-4 pass attempts before DeGracia came off the bench to take his place. DeGracia threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Terry Justice with 15 seconds remaining but Central lost 21-7.
"He's going to be a good one once we have time to work with him back there," Gardner said of Goodson. "Alex (DeGracia) had the bad ankle, but he went in because we felt limited without having him (Goodson) at wideout."
Justice started at tight end in place of Curtis Bunch, who played only on defense. Gardner used Berchaun Clark at offensive tackle in place of Jason Jernigan, who was also used exclusively on defense.
In other adjustments to the Central lineup, Gardner said Fred Scrivens will see full-time duty at tailback and Chris Carrington will share playing time at slotback with Jason Vendrone.
"We had to start over and reevaluate things," Gardner said. "There's no way I can say our kids didn't play hard against Clermont, because they did. It's just that we didn't get the job done."
Central played on Saturday at Clermont, meaning an extra-short week of preparation. Gardner said he hopes neither that nor the special meaning of tonight's game affects the Bears' concentration, which is in desperate need of focus.
"I would hope," Gardner said of the team possibly playing in front of Hackney for the first time this season, "that it would encourage them a little bit more."
North Suncoast football tonight
Hawthorne vs. Central
Time and site: 7 p.m., Tom Fisher Stadium, Hernando High, Brooksville.
Television: HITV, Channel 12 in Hernando County; air time 7 p.m. Monday. Pat Hramika will call play by play. Hernando High athletic director Ernie Chatman and former Springstead High athletic director Harry Wilson will provide commentary.
Records: Central 4-2, Hawthorne 0-7.
Last year: Hawthorne 36, Central 27.
Key points: The Bears have dedicated the game to Chuck Hackney, a Central High linebacker and running back who was paralyzed in a swimming accident this summer. Central opened 4-0 but has dropped its past two games, including a 21-7 loss to Clermont on Saturday. The Bears have committed 17 turnovers in those two games. Kevin Kanaar, with 694 yards and six touchdowns on 106 carries, is Central's leading rusher and scorer. Hawthorne lost 31-6 to Callahan-West Nassau last week. The Hornets have been outscored 183-18 this season. Hawthorne's only victory in 17 games the past two seasons was the one over Central in 1989, the Bears' first season of varsity play. Hawthorne quarterback Cecil Brown has completed 29 of 78 passes for 154 yards, with nine interceptions and one touchdown. Brown leads Hawthorne in rushing with 121 yards and one touchdown on 38 carries, and he is second on the team with 33 tackles. Central will play on the Class 3A level next season. Hawthorne has been assigned to a 1A district.
Prediction: Central 28, Hawthorne 6.