In Winner, South Dakota, high school football is everything.
So when the players showed up to escort elderly residents to Winner High School’s homecoming parade, it meant the world to them.
"They were flabbergasted when all those boys came in," the school’s student council adviser, Mona LaCompte, told ABC News about the outing.
Many of the residents at Winner Regional Healthcare Center Long-Term Care are alumni of the high school.
"A lot of them wear Winner Warriors clothing on Fridays just because it’s football game day, so it was a really big deal for them,” Jody Engel, the hospital’s communications director, told ABC News. “In this town, those boys are kind of Gods. For them to come over, the residents were just ecstatic.”
Because of mobility issues and since the route didn’t pass directly by their long-term care center, the residents didn’t think they’d be able to attend the homecoming parade. But the hospital’s activities director, DeAnn Woods, called LaCompte in hopes of coming up with a plan B.
LaCompte then approached the school’s athletic director and football coach, Dan Aaker, about using the players to help transport them in their wheelchairs, rather than shuttling them over in groups of four in a van, which takes much longer.
"He said, ‘If we’re going to do it, I want to do it as a team," LaCompte recalled of the coach’s enthusiastic response.
The residents were overjoyed not only to be able to participate, but also to be escorted by the "celebrities" of the occasion.
"It ended up being the most amazing thing," said LaCompte. "You wouldn’t believe the smiles on their faces."
Before the parade, the residents made pennants and pom-poms to cheer the boys along the parade route.
"It’s monumental to them," Engel said. "Being a small, rural community, the community is so tight knit. Everyone is really involved with supporting the kids and supporting the athletics. To be able to participate in something that is so much a part of the thread of the community makes them feel real again. It’s those normal everyday things they miss the most."
The Winner High School football team did go on to win their game 38 to 13 and the school is now thinking of making this an annual tradition.
"It was so touching. I had so many people say this brought this tears to their eyes," said LaCompte.