The state champion Ishpeming Hematite football team has hit the road for New York City.
Eric Dompierre and the Hematites are going there after Eric’s story recently won the Sports Illustrated ‘Underdogs’ series contest.
The magazine was going to pay for ten players to fly to the Big Apple, but Eric’s father, Dean, insisted that the entire team should go.
He convinced the magazine to charter a bus instead of paying airfare, and at noon today, the bus rolled away with a police cruiser and fire engine escort.
But the team needed to pay for the extra hotel rooms.
In under 72 hours, the community came forward to foot the $3,200 bill.
Dean says he’s thrilled at all the support he, his wife and Eric have had, not only in the SI contest but in the two-year battle with the Michigan High School Athletic Association to allow Eric to play high school football and basketball in his senior season.
Eric is 19 years old and was born with Down syndrome.
The Dompierres fought the MHSAA’s refusal to waive its age restriction so that Eric could play, and earlier this year, they won.
It’s a fairy–tale ending to a season that will be memorable in many ways for Hematites head coach Jeff Olson.
In mid–July, less than three weeks before preseason practice began, his son Daniel committed suicide.
Daniel Olson was the starting quarterback on his father’s state runner–up team two years ago.
Jeff Olson says the players he coaches are like family to him, and they’ve helped greatly as he and his wife have had a very difficult time in the last six months.
He says the ability to watch his players reap rewards like the trip for everything they’ve done means the world to him.
Ishpeming Mayor Pat Scanlon says the players’ willingness to dedicate their season to honor the teammates they’ve lost, and to support Eric in his fight, speaks volumes about their character.
One of Daniel Olson’s former teammates also passed away recently.
Derrick Briones, older brother of this year’s starting quarterback, Alex Briones, died in February 2011.
The Hematites will attend the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony in New York Wednesday night.
They’ll return to Ishpeming on Friday.