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Prior to the Lecanto-Crystal River boys beasketball game Friday night, the crowd containing noth sides of the rivalry was treated to a heartwarming spectacle, as the host Panthers honored former head coach Chris Nichols, who two years ago was forced to retire after suffering a pair of strokes, on the heels of a heart condition.
His presence is always felt near or within the walls of the Panthers Den, be it echoes of his past success or the fact that in spite of his current condition, he remains a fixture at the gym, for most games and practices.
Every person in the gym stool in lengthy applause, particularly when his retired number 21 was revealed high on the wall, decorated on a banner. Said current Lecanto head coach Frank Vilardi, ”I thought with the applause and the ovation he got, you could see that he means alot, not only to Lecanto but to the entire community. He’s a class act and this was a great way to honor him.”
Lecanto athletic director Ron Allan, who came to the school at the same time as Nichols in 1984, agreed, saying, “It’s just a little token of our appreciation from our school community back to him and his family.”
Nichols and Allan formed summer camps and winter leagues early in their tenures with the school, and the influence remains.
“With these kinds of things, he kind of helped basketball to blossom in this community,” said Allan. “Alot of these boys that you see out here went through the camps when they were little guys, even up until a couple years ago. One of the biggest things that he means to this school and to the whole community is that he loves this game with a passion.”
Even still, while he fights his battle with a heart condition and stroke recovery. And now, with number 21 high on the wall, his significance to this area will be forever evident.