PALMETTO -- The Palmetto High School football team will take the field Friday for a home spring game against St. Petersburg High School, and will also remember a player whose life was cut short Christmas Day.
"To keep his memory alive means a lot but it doesn't fill the hole in the heart," said Kyle O'Halloran's father, Brian O'Halloran. "It's the best way we could think of -- to keep him on the football field where he was happiest."
Kyle O'Halloran was killed after Roberto Betancourt and two others pulled into O'Halloran's driveway to buy marijuana, according to police reports. Betancourt and two passen
gers passed the marijuana around and the driver drove off without paying for it.
O'Halloran hung onto the exiting vehicle, police said, and Betancourt continued to speed off until he fell off. O'Halloran died of head trauma.
The O'Halloran family denies Kyle O'Halloran was selling marijuana, saying the drivers were trying to steal jewelry O'Halloran was wearing and held him to the side of the vehicle as they pulled it off. Police said no personal items of O'Halloran's were found in the vehicle and they did not pursue drug charges against Betancourt.
Betancourt, who faces a first-degree charge of vehicular manslaughter, had a case management hearing Wednesday morning where his defense attorney asked his Aug. 31 trial be pushed back to October or November. The next hearing is scheduled July 22.
The O'Hallorans started a Go Fund Me account to raise money for a football mascot tunnel, which will debut as the players come out for Friday's game. It's a blow-up 20-foot-tall, 12 foot-wide and 12-foot-long tunnel that declares: "Palmetto Tigers" and "In memory of Kyle O'Halloran."
The Go Fund Me raised $3,885, the school donated $1,500 and the O'Hallorans covered the remainder of the cost, also buying wristbands people can wear in the teenager's memory.
At halftime, the school will present the O'Hallorans with Kyle's jersey, No. 4, and retire it for at least a year, Brian O'Halloran said. Leann O'Halloran, his mother, said they will also let off 400 balloons at halftime and a friend will sing, "Dancing in the Sky."
Brian O'Halloran said it was the school's idea to have the spring game in Kyle's honor.
"They stepped up. It was their idea to do the memorial and then we started the Go Fund Me for the tunnel to try and help the school," Brian O'Halloran said. "That way he could be remembered out on the field and at the school."
Darrian Szabo, Kyle O'Halloran's fiancee and the mother of their daughter, Paitynn, said a lot of people at the school are excited to see the tunnel. He would have graduated with the senior class this year.
"I'm really excited to see it," Szabo said. "It's different without Kyle and it's been a lot harder without Kyle."
Zach Maugherman, Kyle O'Halloran's best friend, said he would have loved the tunnel idea.
"This was him. Football was life for him, actually," Maugherman said.
Sydney Lang, a Palmetto High School senior and friend of Kyle's, said she's also pushing to have the school do something for Kyle at graduation, but the principal hasn't committed anything definite yet.
Palmetto High School Principal Willie Clark did not return a call requesting comment Wednesday.
"We need to keep it in mind," Lang said. "Even though it's a few months later, we need to continue to support his memory."
Five months after his death, everyone who knew Kyle O'Halloran said they still have trouble believing he's gone.
"You get up in the morning looking for him, and it's tough," Brian O'Halloran said. "Nothing is going to bring him back and that's what hurts the most."
"It's not supposed to happen. He should be here, he should be here with his daughter," Leann O'Halloran added through tears. "We miss him more than life."
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055 or at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter @Kate Irby.