ISHPEMING - Not an empty seat was to be found in the Ishpeming High School gym Sunday night when community members welcomed home the Ishpeming Hematites football team which won the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 7 state championship in Detroit just the day before.
As each player and coach was announced, the crowd grew loud with cheers of joy for the team - considered underdogs by many in the state championship game against Detroit Loyola. IHS Principal Vicki Lempinen spoke at the rally about what hard workers the team and coaches are.
"Every week coach (Jeff Olson) would come into the office and I would ask, 'well coach, what's this team look like?' and every week he would say, 'They're big and they're fast,'" Lempinen said. "But it didn't matter because it wasn't about being the biggest, it was about working hard, being well coached and giving your everything."
Ishpeming Hematites quarterback Alex Briones appears after being introduced with the state championship trophy at a welcome home rally held Sunday night at the Ishpeming High School gymnasium. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
After the rally, there was a meet-and-greet with the players in the old high school gym where they had their pictures taken with the trophies and signed team pictures and T-shirts for fans. Quarterback Alex Briones said the welcome home has been an incredible experience.
The players' bus was greeted by a sign congratulating them as soon as they crossed the Mackinac Bridge and by cheering fans in Ishpeming as they got off the bus.
"It's been a great year through all these tragedies that have happened and it bonded us closer together," Briones said."
Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-486-4401.