MARQUETTE - Above and beyond.
Those are the words Ishpeming School Board President Geno Maino used to describe not just the Ishpeming High School football team's experiences, but the response to the drive to raise funds to send the team to New York City for the Sports Illustrated Sportsmen of the Year event next week.
"We have had a response above and beyond what we ever hoped," Maino said Thursday. While a final total has not been tallied, the drive to raise money for the Hematites trip surpassed the $3,200 needed to pay for lodging for the team.
"This has been a wonderful, unbelievable outpouring of support, from our community, from all over the Upper Peninsula, from all over the country," Maino said. "It's incredible how all of this has touched people's hearts."
The team is making the trip east because the story of kicker Eric Dompierre won the SI "Underdogs" online voting, taking first place among 10 stories about athletes overcoming great odds to succeed.
Dompierre and his family battled for him to have a chance to play during his senior year and in doing so, changed a Michigan High School Athletic Association rule. The previous rule would have barred Dompierre, who is now 19 and has Down syndrome, from participating in sports this year because he was considered too old.
The rule was altered and Dompierre, much to the delight of his community, was able to be part of the Hematites football season, which ended in an MHSAA Division 7 championship last Saturday.
Along the way, too, the community grieved the loss of three young men associated with the Ishpeming football program, including the son of head football coach Jeff Olson.
In winning the "Underdogs" competition, the Ishpeming district will get a $25,000 grant and earned a trip for 10 of its players to NYC for Wednesday's Sportsmen of the Year event. But instead of choosing 10 from its roster to fly to the event, the team chose to make the trip with all its members.
So while SI changed 10 plane tickets to charter bus, the football team still needed to pay for lodging beyond the rooms for the original 10 Sports Illustrated is paying for, which spurred the fund drive.
"This whole story has been so amazing," Maino said. "We had the parents of eight kids on the team call our office to say they just could not afford to send their boys. They couldn't afford spending money.
"Because of the generosity we received, everyone will be able to have some spending money, to get an 'I Love New York' T-shirt or something," Maino said. "This is going to be an educational experience. They're going to Ground Zero and other places.
"I could not be more proud, as a member of the school board, as a community member, as a Hematite," he said. "It just makes you smile. In this economy, I know people are struggling. And it's the holiday season, too. It just gets me choked up to think how many people reached out to help."
It wasn't just the fundraising effort through which U.P. people showed support, Maino said.
"We were driving back from Ford Field last Saturday and we get to Munising. It's 10:30 at night and there are at least 50 people standing at the side of the road, holding signs and cheering," he said. "We have felt huge support like that from throughout the U.P."
Maino said he knows the football team will have an amazing time when it makes the journey, leaving Ishpeming Monday, bound for New York City.
"This is going to be the greatest trip for these kids," he said. "Talk about a year. After all this community has been through, this trip means the world to everyone. It's truly amazing."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is email@example.com.