After Kevin Kanaar rushed for his third touchdown Thursday night, the Central High School fullback walked toward the bleachers at Tom Fisher Stadium. Kanaar had taken off his helmet to scan the crowd. When he found the person he was looking for, Kanaar flashed a simple thumbs-up.
Chuck Hackney saw the signal and responded with a huge grin.
"This was the best game I've played in my entire life because it wasn't just for myself," said Kanaar, who rushed for 132 yards in Central's 39-0 victory over Hawthorne. "It was for a very special friend."
Hackney was the recipient of plenty of special recognition on Thursday night. The Central football linebacker and running back, wrestler and weightlifter was paralyzed in a July 4 accident while working as a lifeguard at the Buccaneer Bay water park at Weeki Wachee Spring.
He has been hospitalized since the accident but was allowed to leave his room at the Tampa General Rehabilitation Center to attend the game played in his honor.
In their huddles, Central players screamed Hackney's name: "C'mon, for Chuck."
"I had goosebumps the whole game," Kanaar said.
On the sidelines, players held four fingers aloft in honor of Hackney's jersey number _ 44. Cheerleaders, fans and those in the Central student section chanted the number: "Forty-four, forty-four."
In the stands donations were made to the Hackney Trust Fund, including $600 collected at Mariner Lanes in Spring Hill, $200 from the school bus drivers of Hernando County and $200 from Spring Hill firefighters.
In the press box, announcers Pat Hramika, Ernie Chatman and Harry Wilson described the game for HITV, cable Channel 12 in Hernando County. The telecast will be shown on a big-screen television during a fund-raiser Monday night at the Fireside Inn in Brooksville.
On the field, the Bears scored 21 third-quarter points.
"I think the emotion from halftime had a lot to do with that," Central coach Barry Gardner said.
Hackney, wrapped in his blue and silver Bears letter jacket, seemed overwhelmed by all the attention.
"It's great," he said.
At halftime, the Central football team watched from the end zone as Kanaar and Bears slotback Chris Carrington, two of Hackney's closest friends, wheeled their teammate toward the 50-yard line. Glenn and Paulett Hackney, Chuck's parents, stood nearby.
Karen Wilder, president of the senior class at Central, of which Hackney is a member, took off the head of the Bears' mascot outfit she was wearing and gave Hackney cards from classmates, game-action photographs and a scrapbook of memories.
Hackney also was presented with a plaque that chronicles his athletic accomplishments, which include scoring the first touchdown in Central history.
Brooksville Mayor John Tucker and Hernando County Commissioner June Ester declared Thursday Chuck Hackney Day.
"We want you to know our hearts are with you, Chuck, and with your family," Hernando County school Superintendent Dan McIntyre said to Hackney, who was transferred from Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg to the Tampa General Rehabilitation Center on Sept. 17. "We're looking forward to your coming home."
Before Kanaar and Carrington turned Hackney's wheelchair so he could watch the Central band's halftime show, Gardner made a special presentation. He showed two Bears jerseys that will be stored in trophy cases at the school and announced the retirement of Hackney's number.
"It will never be worn by anyone else at Central High. .
. No. 44 will stay in our hearts forever," Gardner, his voice wavering, said before jogging back to his team in the end zone.
Before the band began playing, a deep voice pierced the still air.
"We love you, Chuck," said someone in the crowd.