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City unites to cheer on Luke

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Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown grabbed the microphone on Saturday afternoon at Trinity Christian Academy stadium and declared it 'Luke Akerstrom Day.'

Brown could have taken it a step further and included the city of Jacksonville in his proclamation for the support it showed a six-year boy on a very chilly day.

More than 1,000 people convened on the Westside of Jacksonville to watch Luke fulfill a dream and to witness a miracle as he played in a flag football game.  This day wasn't supposed to happen.

Luke suffered a 30-minute seizure in the back of his parents' car on Dec. 29, 2010 that ravaged the left side of his body with what doctors have diagnosed as a rare form of encephalitis.  There were no warning signs.  Doctors had no answers as to why and what his condition would be long-term.  They still don't.

Doctors told Luke's parents, Brandi and Magnus, they should be thankful for any progress their son makes but don't have high expectations.

Well, Luke had other plans.  He went to work with extensive rehabilitation and hasn't looked back.  Saturday's crowd served as witness to his miracle.

First Baptist Academy first-grade teacher Debora Moenning had each of her students write their wish for 2012.  Luke, who attends classes three days a week, didn't hesitate; "I want to play football."

Brandi Akerstrom posted a picture of the assignment on Facebook and the rest is history.

Those words were all Kristy Dantzler and Melissa Gibson needed to hear.  Dantzler and Gibson each have boys that play in the Westside Baptist Church Flag Football League. They met with the coaches and decided Luke would get his wish and a lot more.

But Saturday was much more than just a game, considering the size of the crowd.  It was about local firefighters, police officers, city leaders led by Mayor Brown, the Jaguars organization and thousands of Jacksonville residents coming together. 

Heck, there was even a flyover prior to game as a police helicopter landed at midfield much to the delight of the hundreds of children in attendance. 

Children were treated to police cruisers, ambulances and fire trucks in the end zone.

Everything was done with one goal in mind: The community wanted to show Luke he was special.

They accomplished that and much more.

Over the past year while he was in and out of the hospital, Luke has met his fair share of football players and coaches. It only took one visit from Jaguars center Brad Meester to form a lifelong friendship.  Brad and his wife, Jamie, have five girls and look at Luke and his brother, Abram, as their sons.

The relationship with the Meesters has made Luke take a liking to the big guys in the trenches.  Guard Uche Nwaneri had lunch with Luke at his school last month, and Luke enjoys watching offensive tackle Eugene (Luke calls him 'MaGene') Monroe play.

Luke has also spent time with Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, Maurice Jones-Drew, Blaine Gabbert, Mel Tucker, Mark Duffner and many more around the Jaguars organization. 

What makes these relationships special are Luke appreciates the support and he values the friendships he has formed.  Some might wonder if he understands his situation, but spend two minutes around Luke and you quickly realize his mental capacity is strong.

Luke didn't and wouldn't miss a Jaguars home game in 2011.  It became his obsession after meeting so many players and coaches.  Not many six-year old kids can pronounce Paul Posluszny's name the right way or name the entire starting offensive line for the Jaguars.

But all this talk about football made Luke yearn for his chance to play.  He knows most six-year old kids are playing outside whether it's at home or in a local soccer, baseball or flag football league.  His four-year old brother is in a local soccer league but Luke wondered why his old team wasn't playing anymore.  It was a tough question for his parents to answer.

Well, the Jacksonville community had the perfect answer.

When told about the event, Posluszny, Meester, John Chick, Will Rackley and Zach Miller didn't bat an eye.  They weren't going to miss it.  The ROAR cheerleaders, along with Jaxson de Ville, were waiting for Luke upon his arrival.  The Jaguars contingent spent 45 minutes signing autographs and posing for pictures prior to the game.

Luke began Saturday at his house in Ortega fielding pregame phone calls from Jones-Drew and Gabbert.  Both players are out of town but knew this was a monumental day for their friend. 

It only got better from there for Luke and his teammates.  Carey Limousine had a car sent to pick up the group so they could arrive at the field in style.  They dropped Luke off at midfield where he received a standing ovation.

The action on the field was memorable as Luke scored several touchdowns while his brother ran in the two point conversions.  But the score didn't matter. 

For one day, Luke was a normal seven-year old kid playing outside with his friends.  It was a long time coming.  His smile was all that was needed.  Each touchdown was followed by a rousing ovation, hugs from cheerleaders, his parents, doctors, therapists and countless friends he has gained over the past year. 

Saturday was everything that is right about living on the First Coast. Sure, the beautiful beaches are nice, having a NFL team in your city is a plus and no one is arguing about the weather.  But Jacksonville is a city of caring people who take pride in how their city is portrayed.  Well, Jacksonville, you get an A-plus for your effort on Saturday.

Stand up, Jacksonville, and give yourself a hand.

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