Van Brooks, a junior at Loyola in Towson, Md., was in serious condition yesterday after fracturing a vertebra in his neck during a football game at Georgetown Prep this past Saturday, school spokeswoman Kathi O'Conor said.

Brooks, a defensive back, was injured trying to make a tackle on Saturday. His head collided with a running back's leg in the second half, and he lay motionless on the field for nearly 30 minutes before a helicopter took him to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, witnesses said.

Brooks was conscious and lucid when he left the field and has since showed movement in his fingers.

"It was one of those things you can't believe," Georgetown Prep Coach Dan Paro said. "Basically, Van made a tackle and led with his head. We're all praying for the best."

Brooks underwent a long, successful surgery Saturday night to repair the fracture. His status has since been upgraded from critical to serious condition, hospital spokeswoman Cindy Rivers said.

Loyola held a forum and a prayer service for all of its high school students yesterday morning, O'Conor said. Afterward, the football team and the black student council -- of which Brooks is president -- met privately with counselors.

-- Eli Saslow