MARQUETTE - Ishpeming resident Dean Dompierre woke up early this morning in his hotel room in New York City.
He couldn't sleep any longer. The thoughts and emotions brought on after escorting the Ishpeming varsity football team to Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" award ceremony Wednesday night were too powerful to be kept at bay.
"I'm having a hard time sleeping," Dompierre said as he sent photos to local media organizations of the Hematites posing with famous sports figures. "I woke up and was thinking about last night and it just started firing me up."
Today marks the third and final day Dompierre and the Ishpeming varsity football team will spend in New York City. The group is traveling back home to Ishpeming tonight, and is expected to arrive back in town around 5 p.m. Friday.
It was an exciting three days, Dompierre said, with a chance to see and experience so many "life-changing" things.
But Dompierre believes the events of this week - and the entire year - will long outlast a short trip to New York City and an opportunity to shake hands with the 2012 SI Sportsman of the Year, LeBron James.
Members of the Ishpeming High School varsity football team pose with Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year LeBron James Wednesday night at the award ceremony in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Dean Dompierre)
"I'm glad Sports Illustrated let me in too (to the award ceremony) not only to experience it myself, but to be able to watch the kids experience it," Dompierre said. "They all appreciate what's going on, but there's so much that they've done, not just in this past week, that I'm sure it's going to take quite some time before it'll all settle in on them. It'll take some time before they can really process it and understand how great of a time this has been."
The Hematites were afforded an all-expense paid trip to the award ceremony after winning an online voting contest for an episode in the SI video series "Underdogs" that featured Dean's son, Eric, and his battle to change a Michigan High School Athletic Association age rule that would have kept the 19-year-old senior with Down syndrome from playing sports this year.
People from across the country chipped in to help send the entire team to New York City, where Ilan Sobel, general manager of Coca Cola, presented the group with a $25,000 check for the Ishpeming School District's athletic department.
"He gave a speech to these kids about the importance of continuing to lead, like they've done so far. Personally, I thought it was, for the kids, the best part of the whole night," Dompierre said. "It was a life-changer for those kids to hear someone like him talking about how he admired what they had done so far, and encouraging them ... That was a great part of the experience. All eyes were on the kids and they all admired these kids and (head football) coach (Jeff) Olson for what they've done."
This morning, the group headed out to Ground Zero, where they planned to take a tour before boarding the bus and coming home.
Dompierre said Brad Wootke, a member of the team, summed up the trip best.
"He said, 'What a week. We won the state championship, we get to go to New York (City) and we get to meet LeBron James. Any one of those alone would be an experience of a lifetime, and we've gotten to do it all, all three of them in one week,'" Dompierre said. "It was a big day. It was a great ceremony. It was great for the kids. I think it was a life changer."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.