It's a proud moment for any parent, watching their child win a state championship. That's what happened last Saturday at Ford Field when the Ishpeming Hematites beat Detroit Loyola, 20 to 14.
But not for Jeff Olson, whose son, Daniel, quarterbacked the Hematites to the state championship game two years ago, where they lost to Hudson. Daniel was supposed to be an assistant coach this year, but he took his own life just before the season started after a lengthy battle with anxiety and depression.
But the Hematites believe he was playing last Saturday as the 12th player on the field.
"His dream was to win a state championship, but it wasn't for him. It was for me. And he even talked to me probably two months before he passed away and said, 'I really want you to win one.' He told me that. You know, I have to believe, the way things fell this year, that he was up there, you know, giving us a little push," said head coach Jeff Olson.
As for the Hematites, they say Daniel's death made them work harder for the win.
"Daniel's death, it was a big motivator, you know, because it was always Daniel's dream to win his dad a state championship, so it feels good," said senior player, Rj Poirier.
And there was another player who almost didn't get to be a part of the state championship: Eric Dompierre, a 19-year-old athlete with down syndrome. After a two-and-a-half year battle with the Michigan High School Athletic Association, he and his dad, Dean, changed a rule that would have stopped Eric from playing sports in his senior year, all because they say he was too old.
Now, thanks to Dean Dompierre's efforts, athletes all over the state who are like Eric have the ability to submit a waiver that asks for permission to play.
"Like most fathers, I would do anything for my son, and I understood fully how important his being with those kids, these coaches, and a part of this community was. And it had made him what he was up until that point, and we were very proud of what he had become at that point. So we knew that another year with these kids and these coaches, regardless of how well they did as a team, was going to make him an even better person," said Dean.
Now, after winning the Sports Illustrated contest, Dean Dompierre is trying to arrange for the whole Hematite team to go to New York City for the SI Sportsmanship Award ceremony.Teammates say, when times got tough for the Ishpeming Hematites, they looked up to their role models, Jeff Olson and Dean Dompierre. And for some, that's the motivation they needed for that final game.
"The efforts from Coach Olson this year, breaking down the game film for hours every single day and putting us in a situation to win, and then from Mr. Dompierre, all the hard work he's put into making sure Eric can play this year, it motivates you. Really, it rubs off, the perseverance, it rubs off. And we learn to appreciate that and work just has hard to accomplish our goals," said senior player, Joey Lyle.
And now the Ishpeming Hematites have only one thing in mind for their future plans...
"We want to get back there. It's a great, great experience, a great ride. It's a great accomplishment," Coach Olson said.