WARRENSBURG - Mason Hamilton, a local high school football star from the 1990s, experienced a lot of vocal support from the sidelines during his gridiron days.
But now, the support is even more appreciated, widespread and heartfelt, considering the outreach of friends and community members to Hamilton following his Feb. 6 snowmobile racing accident that shattered his spine and left him partially paralyzed, his parents said Monday.
Hamilton, a 1998 graduate of Warrensburg Central School, was seriously injured when he flew off a snowmobile during a warm-up lap in a race event on Echo Lake held by the Northern New York Vintage Snowsled Racing Association, his mother Shelly Hamilton said.
The outreach from the community has not been limited, however, to the traditional hospital visits, cards, and entrees delivered to the family.
The community support has also expressed itself in a way appropriate to the digital age - it's gone virtual.
Mason Hamilton has become no less than an Internet phenomenon, with more than 900 friends linking up to a "We Support Mason Hamilton" Facebook page within a week of his accident.
Hundreds of people are now logging on nightly to read Mason's updates about his rehabilitation progress, and Mason elicits hundreds of comments when he publishes a memo, family members said.
Morgan is now in Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital of Schenectady after spending 11 days in Albany Medical Center, whose doctors screwed braces into his spine.
Mason's classmate Nick Isaacson and other brother Morgan Hamilton created this Internet-based outreach, Isaacson said Tuesday.
Morgan was getting a lot of inquiries via Facebook about his brother's condition, but because the way the social networking site is designed, it made sense and allowed more efficient access to launch a separate page devoted just to Mason and his recovery, Isaacson said.
A day after the crash, Isaacson had the Facebook site up and running, and he and Morgan fine-tuned it, eventually turning it over to Mason to administrate as he got better.
Friends with Mason since they were 5 years old, Nick said he wanted to create a convenient way all Mason's many friends could stay in touch without clogging the hospital or Sunnyview's visiting rooms.
"You couldn't ask for a better friend or man than Mason - he'd do anything for anybody," Isaacson said Tuesday. "I wanted to set up a way people could show their support and love so he could pull through."
He said the "We Support Mason Hamilton" Facebook page provided a way that hundreds could show support without putting an unintended burden on Mason and his recovery.
"This is a way all of us could show mass support without everybody clamoring down there," he said. "This is a guy we all love and care for, and hopefully the response - it's heartwarming - will help him get better."
Shelly Hamilton said the response from the community through Facebook has surpassed all expectations.
"I knew he had a lot of friends, but this is overwhelming," she said. "Facebook was such a great idea - it's like a giant electronic kiosk - the page took on a life of its own."
Mason's friends are helping in other ways, too, Shelly Hamilton said. As Mason is employed in contracting, many of his friends are too - and now they're helping out by retrofitting Mason's home to make it barrier-free and accommodate a wheelchair, she said.
"It's absolutely amazing what they're doing for Mason," she said.
Others are supporting him in other ways - by raising money for his medical and recovery expenses by selling Mason-branded T-shirts or other items.
Contractor and friend Craig House is selling T-shirts bearing Mason's signature and racing number and emblazoned with the slogan "Strength - True Greatness Comes When You are Tested."
Kate Yarmowich Belden said Monday night she and others are planning a gala benefit event, tentatively set for later this year at Echo Lake Lodge, to help out Mason.
Shelly said Mason was paralyzed from the hips down, but due to substantial abrasion of his spinal cord from the impact of hitting the ice when thrown from the snowmobile.
She said doctors don't know whether or when he'll regain feeling and control in his legs again, but all are hopeful.
She said the crash was a "freak accident" at a relatively low speed, noting that Mason is experienced in high-speed racing, and has endured many crashes, including walking away from collisions at speeds up to 90 mph.
Shelly said the caring support Mason is experiencing includes that from his employers, Donnelly Construction of Mechanicville. The firm is keeping Mason at work while he's recovering in Sunnyview, by giving him construction estimating and bidding work on the computer.
"His bosses are extremely supportive," she said.
Folks who want to send cards to Mason may contact him at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, 1270 Belmont Ave. Schenectady, NY 12308.
Belden said the outpouring of caring for Mason was heartwarming - and very appropriate.
"His friends really rallied," she said. "He has an amazing support group now - and that shows a lot about his character - Mason is easy-going, fun-loving, has a positive attitude, he's incredibly generous, and he's pleasant to all those around him."