ISHPEMING - The entire Ishpeming Hematites football team left for New York City Monday to attend the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year event.
The Hematites are headed to the Big Apple because Eric Dompierre's story won the the SI "Underdogs" competition, coming in first place out of 10 stories about other high school athletes who have overcome great odds to succeed.
"It feels exciting (to win) because there are lots of people supporting me," Dompierre said. "We got more votes than we expected."
The Ishpeming Hematites football team loads the bus outside the Ishpeming High School Monday as they prepare to leave for New York City. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
The team settles in on the bus. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
The winner received a $25,000 scholarship for their school and a trip for 10 players to be flown out to New York City. But instead of picking 10 players to go, the school asked Sports Illustrated if the team could use the money that would be used to fly out 10 players and put it toward a charter bus so the whole team could experience the trip together.
"It wasn't fair to the other players who couldn't come," Dompierre said. "Now they're excited ... they get to go."
Even after exchanging 10 plane tickets for a charter bus, the team was $3,200 short of taking the whole team. The money was needed to pay for the extra lodging the team needed for the other players beyond the 10 originally paid for by Sports Illustrated. That's when the team started fundraising.
The team raised well over the $3,200 originally needed and now the team won't have to pay for anything, such as food, while they are there, head football coach Jeff Olson said.
"I just couldn't believe, not only people in our community, but people in the state of Michigan and other states heard our story and were donating," Olson said. "It's just fantastic because these kids won't have to worry about paying for anything out there and they can just see and experience New York."
Olson said it means a lot to him to have all of the players go. It also means a lot to Dompierre and his teammates as well, such as senior R.J. Poirier who is looking forward to getting to spend more time with his teammates.
"Everyone on this team is well deserving to go on this trip to New York and enjoy being a team again instead of just the 10," Poirier said.
Poirier said he was surprised and not surprised at the same time by how much support the team got from the community because the community has always been there for them.
"I just want to give all of them a big thank you," Poirier said. "They made our lives this season unbelievable."
The team left at about noon Monday for the 20-hour bus ride to New York. The team will sight-see today then nine players, Olson and Eric Dompierre's dad, Dean Dompierre, will attend the Sportsman of the Year event Wednesday.
The team will return home Thursday.
Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-486-4401.