Although I still have doubts about the significance of homecoming royalty, I read a story recently that caused me to see things differently. The contest was rigged, but for all of the right reasons. The following account is excerpted from an article written by Jay Weinder on the ESPN.com Web site.
Four senior candidates for homecoming king at Lake Fenton High School in Michigan agreed to lose on purpose. The four candidates, all football players, and a co-conspirator on the golf team fixed it so that sophomore Eli Florence, a 5-foot-7 former offensive lineman, won instead.
According to Weinder, doctors say there’s nothing they can do for Eli, who spends most of his time at home, barely able to speak, getting regular blood transfusions. The 15-year-old is dying of leukemia.
Four years earlier, Eli’s mother remembers what her son told her when he learned he was suffering from acute myelogenous leukemia. He said, “I’ve got something to tell you. Me and God, we had a heart-to-heart. I told him I was available for whatever he needed.”
Although Eli’s days are numbered, he hasn’t quit fighting. From one remission to two cutting-edge stem cell transplants to one stint of 13 straight months in the hospital, Eli has endured.
But friends who monitored Eli’s health on a Web site saw a sobering message from his mom, “Tonight I come with a broken heart. Eli has been given just a few weeks to maybe one month to live here on this Earth with us … This process of ‘losing my son’ is going to be very soon. When I look at him, even today, it just doesn’t seem possible.”
That was Sept. 16. Word spread around the school and town of about 5,000.
The four king candidates planned their announcement for what was to be the king candidate-selection assembly. Jake Kirk, the ringleader and one of the candidates, took the microphone and told the more than 500 students there wouldn’t be any vote this year for king.
“We, as the king’s court, decide there is nobody in this school who deserves this more than Eli Florence. This year’s homecoming king is going to be Eli.”
Eli wasn’t at the assembly, because he was too sick to be in school that day.
Naming Eli king was one thing. Having him present for the halftime ceremony was another, because as halftime was approaching, the king-to-be was receiving a necessary blood transfusion at a local clinic.
When he got to the game, he had no idea he was going to be the center of attention. In the nick of time, Eli arrived in a wheelchair, to escort his friend, Ashley, a member of the sophomore royal court, to midfield.
When he heard his name announced as the 2007 king, Eli was understandably stunned.
“But I’m not a senior,” Eli said. “I’m not a senior.”
The crowd, including the homecoming queen, stood. Many cried.
It’s an amazing story that also touched many adults, including principal John Spieko. “There’s not much that surprises me, but that did. We can’t lump all kids into the same bucket. We see so much character development in so many kids in so many ways. This was just amazing.”
The scoreboard lights told one story — Lake Fenton lost to Mount Morris 37-20. But scoreboards can lie. The real story is that the students of Lake Fenton High School are the winners.
Eli died Sunday, Oct. 14.