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"This year's homecoming king is going to be Eli."

Homecoming King

August 6th 2011

There are a lot of good business lessons that come from athletic contests on the field of play.  One is demonstrated in a video from 'The Foundation for a Better Life.'  Click Here to watch this wonderful introduction of today's topic.

As preseason football practice is underway, we are only days away from Friday night games where communities gather across the country to support their high school team.  Before we know it, it will be Homecoming.   During this time of year I recall one of my favorite football sports stories.

The business message in both today's video and the following story show the importance of doing the right thing for your customers or clients.  It can be difficult to do the right thing when it may not be in your financial favor.  It can be difficult when it takes more time to do the right thing and when exerting less effort might be "good enough."

In the latest Harry Potter movie, Dumbledore said; "It is time to choose between what is easy and what is right." This is something we must do with each customer encounter and with each interaction with a colleague.

Mature beyond their years, the following five senior student athletes made an ordinary homecoming event - extra ordinary. Behind the scenes, you'll find parents, coaches, teachers and an entire community that taught these young men how to make right decisions. They were taught that they could make a difference -- that their ability to win in life, is not measured by the final score of an athletic contest.

The Fixed Vote

It was halftime at the Lake Fenton-Mount Morris game, seemingly just another high school football contest during another homecoming week on another October Friday night in another American suburb.

But this time the fix was in motion.

Four Lake Fenton, Michigan football players and a co-conspirator on the golf team arranged it. Seniors all, they'd used their cell phones to hatch and agree on the plan, and then met outside the school the afternoon before the big homecoming game to nail it down.

Lose on purpose?

Jake Kirk, the ringleader and a Blue Deveils' running back, saw the decision differently: "We knew we'd all be winners if we did it."

By games end, they'd done it. The scoreboard at Lake Fenton Stadium unfortunately claimed the Blue Devils loss to Mount Morris 37-20, their lone defeat of the season so far.

But scoreboards can lie.

Last Friday, Kirk and fellow seniors David Bittinger, Lucas Hasenfratz, Matthew Tanneyhill and Ethan Merivirta scored one of the biggest victories of their lives.

Candidates for the senior royal crown, they each gave up the chance to become Lake Fenton's homecoming king.

They fixed it so Eli Florence won instead.

Eli is a 5' 7" former offensive lineman. He's only a sophomore. The doctors say there's nothing more they can do for him. He's at home, barely able to speak, getting regular blood transfusions. Eli Florence, 15, is dying of leukemia.

In these days filled, it seems, with it's-all-about-me athletes and iPod-wearing, text messaging teenagers, these Lake Fenton High athletes did something special for a special classmate.

"He's taught us never to give up," Kirk said. "And if you keep fighting, you can overcome the odds. We're happy he's still around because he wasn't supposed to be."

From one remission to two stem cell transplants to one stint of 13 straight months in the hospital, from Flint to Ann Arbor to Minneapolis and now back home, Eli Florence traveled and endured.

"Eli has become an icon for strength and perseverance and character for this entire community, and especailly our student body," said Lake Fenton principal John Spicko.

But last month, the awful, final, numbing news came. Eli's mom wrote on a web site set up by friends to monitor Eli's health; "Tonight I come with a broken heart. Eli has been given just a few weeks to live."

That was September 16th. Word spread around the school and the town of about 5,000.

The nicest kid in school, the one who's out of class so often, was fading.

Then, it came to Jake Kirk, as crisply and clearly as his two syllable name: Eli should be homecoming king.

Kirk phoned Tanneyhill. Tanneyhill was with Hasenfratz. Before Kirk even got the entire concept out of his mouth, "They immediately said, 'Yes!'" Kirk said. Soon after, the other two senior candidates for homecoming readily agreed as well.

By lunchtime, they'd planned their announcement for what was to be the king candidate-selection assembly.

Kirk took the microphone in front of the entire student body of 538 students and said there wouldn't be any vote for king this year.

"We, as the kings court, decided that nobody deserves this more than Eli Florence. This year's homecoming king is going to be Eli."

The entire audience cheered and clapped in unison.

But Eli was too sick to be in school that day.

"The whole school knew, but Eli did not know," Sticko said

That night, Eli's mom received a text message telling her that Eli would be crowned the next night at halftime of the football game. She didn't tell her son.

Halftime was approaching and the king-to-be was at a local clinic receiving a necessary blood transfusion, getting energy, getting life. He was scheduled to escort his friend, Ashley Look, a member of the sophomore royal court, to midfield. He didn't have a clue he would be the center of attention.

Barely in the nick of time, Eli, in a wheelchair, and Ashley joined the other members of the court and their parents at midfield, surrounded by the Lake Fenton band, clad in blue and white.

The public-address announcer said: "Your 2007 king, as designated by the five candidates is.....is Eli Florence."

The king was stunned.

"But I'm not a senior," Eli told others around him. "I'm not a senior."

The crowd of 2,000 people, including homecoming queen Brooke Hull, 17, stood and many cried.

The next morning, Eli's mom brought the telephone to Eli in his bed. He spoke softly but with deep gratitude to the five boys who honored him.

"It was definitely a sacrifice to take that step down to let someone else be homecoming king."

Condensed from a report by Jay Weiner - ESPN.com

The overall message is to do the right thing over doing the easy thing.  Your long term personal and professional success depends on how well you are able to do the right thing in every encounter.