Less than a week after he was injured in a bizarre accident, sixth-grader Johnathon Ferland received a warm reception when he returned to school Monday.
Officials from various city and community agencies honored the 11-year-old Largo Middle School student for his commitment to wearing a bicycle helmet.
The black Razor helmet likely saved Johnathon's life after a pole fell on his head the afternoon of Jan. 29, police officials say.
Largo police Chief Lester Aradi praised Johnathon for making good decisions.
"We have too many examples of people who did things the wrong way, with tragic consequences," he said.
Aradi gave Johnathon a new helmet and a certificate of recognition before honoring the crossing guards who attended to him before paramedics arrived that afternoon.
Johnathon was standing with his bicycle, waiting to cross at the corner of Clearwater-Largo Road and Eighth Avenue SW, when a truck in a nearby parking lot rolled down an embankment and knocked down two poles.
A sign struck Johnathon on the neck, slicing his neck near a major artery. It required 22 stitches to close the gash, Johnathon said.
The second pole, a 40-pound walk signal pole, hit him on top of the head and caused a mild concussion.
Johnathon said he was still sore from the accident, which strengthened his resolve to always wear his helmet.
Clad in a blue and white jersey, with bruises still visible on his face, Johnathon said a lot of kids don't wear helmets because they think it makes them look "uncool."
Marcy Tilmann, the founder of a nonprofit group that gives free helmets to kids who pledge to wear them, said those kids are wrong.
Tilmann's adult son wasn't wearing a helmet when he died in a skateboarding accident in 2005.
"You made a cool decision to wear a helmet," Tilmann told Johnathon after presenting him with another new helmet, an extreme sports model.
Johnathon was also recognized by Largo City Commissioner Rodney Woods and All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, where he was taken after the accident.
Johnathon said he was feeling lucky since the incident.
His bike survived the accident intact, and he had a bag full of goodies to take home from the school ceremony, including an autographed bat and two free tickets to a spring training baseball game, courtesy of the Clearwater Threshers.
And it didn't hurt that the team he was rooting for pulled out a Super Bowl victory the night before, Johnathon said.
"Go Giants!" he said, before heading back to class.
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4162.