It was more than just a football... and KIDK Eyewitness News 3 anchor Todd Kunz was witness to it. Two Grid Kid fifth grade teams set the competition aside and became one for a family that lost its son to brain cancer.
Hearts rallied around the family and there were many tears as it was time to "Pay It Forward."
Kunz has followed Team Han from the very beginning, through the few ups and the many downs, -- major downs.
The fifth grade Thunder Ridge Grid Kid Blue team had a special friend in Han Wheeler. He was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer in 2018. The team, fans and parent organizers held many benefits in behalf of Han and his family. The players even visited him at Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City and there is a video that shows that special day.
Han died this past February after a very tough fight.
But Team Han was back on the gridiron again Saturday. In their bright yellow socks for childhood cancer awareness and raising money through concessions, they held a benefit for the Wheeler family. They specifically asked for new, unopened board games to be donated, so they could then donate them to Primary Children's Hospital and the new Ronald McDonald House in Idaho Falls, because Han loved playing board games.
At the end of the game, the score didn't matter. It was all about Han. And even the opposing team, which wasn't opposing anymore, from Sugar-Salem, brought board games. Thunder Ridge head coach, Ken Huseboe, gave his best-ever postgame speech, according to everyone who heard it.
"What I love more is seeing dudes that recognize something that is bigger and better than themselves," said Huseboe in one of the football field's end zones as parents, players and community members huddled around. "And recognizing that there are families that struggle and there are people that hurt. And there are people that lose. And not just a game or not just something that's not super important, but they lose loved ones, and they lose those that are close to them. And to see you guys, and especially you Diggers come out and step up and donate all these games that you guys have brought and there's money coming in to donate to Primary Children's, to me, there is nothing more beautiful and more precious in life than seeing people step up for other people. Han has always been a close teammate of ours. We've loved him. We miss him. And we'll always love him because he's our bud. He's always been an inspiration. We have a couple of gifts that we want to give to Han's family to remember him, to recognize him and the inspiration that he has given us. The boys wanted to get him his own jersey," said Huseboe, holding up a No.12 Thunder Ridge football jersey. "He is our 12th man because there are 11 guys on the field and he is our No.12, so we gave him the No.12 so he can always be with us on and off the field at every time because we remember him, we miss him, we love him. So this is for Han. The boys all signed a football to give you guys as well," said Huseboe, handing over the football and jersey to the Wheeler family. "We love you guys. Thank you!" he said.
"Hey, we're going to do loud and proud. Everybody here, it's going to be Han on three, as loud as you can do it. Give it everything you've got because we have a chance," said Huseboe as everybody came together in a tight huddle with their hands up in unison.
"Whoa, whoa, one second. One second. One second.," said a man, coming in from the side to interrupt the chant.
"Hey Laramie (Han's mother), I'm Kory (Carling) with Mountain American Credit Union. We've heard about what you are doing here and all the support you have, and we want to be a part of this with you. So what we have today that I've brought with me is I have $500 in cash that I want to also give to the Han Foundation and give to you that you can give back to not only the Primary Children's, but to the Ronald McDonald's Home in memory of Han. So however you want to use it, that's up to you., but on behalf of us, we'd like to Pay it Forward to you and to Han," said Carling, while handing over the envelope of cash.
"Oh thank you," said Laramie.
"And give you $500 on behalf of Mountain America Credit Union," said Carling.
"Thank you so much," said Laramie.
"You're welcome," said Carling.
"I appreciate it," said Laramie.
"Wooooo," yelled the crowd .
"What a lesson that was and a lesson their Coach Huseboe brought for them after the game that sometimes you lose and sometimes what's important is that you're doing something that's bigger than you and your team. We had no idea. We had no idea those beautiful little Diggers were going to bring all the games too and just highlight once again, that you know, we're a community," said Joshua Wheeler, Han's father.
"Honestly I'm still in shock. This is not at all something I expected. I will never forget that sight of all those awesome little Diggers each with a game in their hand coming across the field to shake hands with our boys and i just think it speaks volumes as to the caliber of kids that we have in this area, the caliber of families. That we're here to get through mortality together and we're here to support each other. We're here to do the best that we all can together," said Laramie.
"Now I'll never be able to not think of Han as the 12th man. Like that was awesome! He's our 12th man too," said Joshua.
"We're going to scream loud and proud, Han on three. One, two, three, Han! Woooo!" yelled the huddled crowd at the conclusion of the event.
There were many hugs and tears and well-wishes. Two big boxes were not enough to hold all the board games that were donated. And there were more come that were dropped off at the nearby elementary school and a few area business locations. In the end, Team Han brought in just under $2,000 in cash donations as well, according to Huseboe. It was a coordinated effort by the team moms who organized the event with Carly Passey and Kami Higham.
Kunz said it was amazing to witness.
The players from Sugar-Salem stepped up, under coach Brady Gardner, Andrew Mortensen, Greg Yorgeson, Nephi Gibson, and Jared Chappell. Gardner saw the benefit game announced on KIDK Eyewitness News 3 Thursday and said, "Hey that's our game."
He wrote: "I then texted out all the parents and suggested we get all the boys involved in this great event. The boys raised around $300 from Thursday to Friday night. I went with some of the boys to Walmart and we purchased games to bring on Saturday. Parents brought games, we brought games, and it totaled around 50. Thunder Ridge was gracious enough to let Sugar be involved. It was more than just a football game. Thank you for allowing us to be involved."
"Pay It Forward" airs the second Wednesday of every month. If you know of a nonprofit organization or someone who deserves to be recognized for their contributions to the area, click on "Pay It Forward" on the right side of our website and fill out the form, or send an email to KIDK Eyewitness News 3 anchor Todd Kunz at firstname.lastname@example.org.