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TEENAGER WILL BE OKAY AFTER SCARY TACKLE

A pickup game of football nearly turns tragic for James Alvarez.

Fourteen-year-old James Alvarez had the ball.

Josh Smith, 15, went in for the tackle.

"They both fell to the ground," said Smith's aunt, Nicole Jordan, 32. "James didn't get up."

A pickup game of football Monday afternoon almost turned tragic for a Pasco family. The tackle landed James, a ninth-grader at Pasco High School, in a Tampa hospital, unable to move from the neck down.

"He started to move the tips of his fingers and the tips of his toes," Jordan said. "But when the ambulance came, he said that was all he could feel."

School was out Monday. So was the sun. James and several friends were enjoying their day off at Josh's home.

The boys, ages 5 to 17, spent the morning playing video games inside, then took to the front yard for a game of football.

Charmon Rivera, 39, Josh's mom, rushed outside when she saw Alvarez on the ground.

"My son met me at the door and said James was hurt," Rivera said.

James was conscious, even laughing, while he waited for the ambulance to arrive. The sports junkie sobered up when he realized that the paralysis, if permanent, would put an end to any sports dreams he may have had.

His mom, Deborah Sanders, said he was on Pasco High's weightlifting and wrestling teams.

"He's so scared right now," Sanders, 41, told the Times over the phone as she waited at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa for her son's test results.

The MRI and CAT scan revealed that James was likely going to be okay. Sanders said the doctors told her he had pulled the muscles on either side of his spine.

"That's what caused the sensation of paralysis," Sanders said. Doctors did not give her the name of the condition.

"As long as nothing persists, he should heal up fine," Sanders said.

Later Monday afternoon, after James was hauled away in the ambulance, the boys were back in Smith's front yard. Another football game had begun.

"No tackling," Jordan warned.

Two-hand touch, they promised.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.

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