Make no mistake about it, the election of a high school homecoming king is a popularity contest. But sometimes those fortunate enough to be in contention for this quintessentially American rite-of-passage care about more than their own popularity. Last fall, Lake Fenton High School (Linden, Mich.) seniors David Bittinger, Lucas Hasenfratz, Jake Kirk, Ethan Merivirta, and Matthew Taneyhill had the privilege of running for homecoming king. Rather than urging their peers to vote for them, the five boys, all of them varsity athletes, decided mutually that none of them would accept the crown. Instead, before voting was to take place, they announced at an assembly that the title would be given to sophomore Eli Florence. Eli, who played junior high football and youth baseball, had been battling acute myelogenous leukemia for nearly five years. Just weeks before the homecoming game, he had been told that no treatments could extend his life. Eli was too sick to be at school the day of the assembly. But the next night, after receiving a blood transfusion at a local clinic, Eli arrived by halftime to escort one of his best friends, who was a princess on the homecoming court. When the homecoming king announcement was made, Eli couldn’t believe his ears, and said to his friend, “But I’m not a senior.” It took a moment for it to sink in, but Eli soon realized what was happening and joined the homecoming court to a standing ovation from the crowd. Nine days later, Eli passed away. Since then, the five Lake Fenton seniors have continued to take time to provide comfort to Eli’s family. Though their generosity was chronicled on ESPN.com, the actions of the Lake Fenton Five earned them more than popularity. By brightening the outlook of their terminally ill friend, David, Lucas, Jake, Ethan and Matthew demonstrated the power of compassion to all.
The Lake Fenton Five are being recognized by the National Federation of State High School Associations. You can learn more about Eli’s story and his dream to help others by visiting heelifoundation.com.