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Bellefonte Athletes are great role models

By Tara Jackson
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a huge supporter of the student athletes at Bellefonte High School. Most people will tell you that these athletes are known only for their athletic accomplishments but, there is so much more to these young women and men. They are great human beings and role models. My son, Mason, is a testament to that.
If you ask my son who his favorite team is, he will tell you the Red Raiders. He became a fan of them when Julian Heredia started playing football for the team. Mason was one of Julian’s biggest fans. He proved that by asking Santa for two custom made jerseys that had the number 23 on them, Julian’s football number. Both have been signed by Julian himself. While it may be no big thing to us adults, Mason felt he’d hit the jackpot.
Mason broke his wrist in September of 2018. He was so proud of his first cast! He chose the color….you guessed it. He chose the color red. To him, that was a way to show his support for his favorite team. Then Julian and Melissa Heredia took it up a notch and had it signed by some of the team. Mason’s face that night brought me to tears when he saw that Coach Manning, Coach Hale, Caleb Rockey and so many others had signed it. This simple gesture meant so much to my son. Yes, he still has that cast.
I often say that the way people look up to famous athletes like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and John Elway is the same way that Mason looks up to the Red Raiders.
Many of us would love to be on the sidelines for a good NFL, or even NCAA football game but, how many of us would ask, for a 7th birthday, to be on the sidelines of the High School football team? Mason did. Due to PIAA regulations and it being a playoff game, he wasn’t allowed on during the game however, thanks to Julian Heredia’s mom, Melissa, and Coach Hale, Mason was permitted on the field before the game and got to high five his favorite team during warm ups! The team didn’t stop there. They also signed a football for him! Mason still shows it off like it’s the best thing ever! Caleb Rockey even gave him an autographed picture.
The football players were not the only ones showering Mason with birthday love that night. The Bellefonte Cheerleaders sang “Happy Birthday”, gave him a card and a water bottle. It didn’t end there though. Mason wanted to make sure that all of his “best friends” got to celebrate his birthday. Instead of a traditional birthday cake, he requested that I get enough cupcakes to share with them. Wish granted! He had enough mini cupcakes to share with the team, the cheerleaders and then some. The Red Raiders won that game. The atmosphere afterwards, combined with winning the playoff game and everyone passing around cupcakes to celebrate the birthday was, as Mason said “my birthday dream coming true but, even better than a Dream”.
Along with several others that year, Mason became a fan of Caleb Rockey. We went to as many of Caleb’s games we could. Win or lose, Mason was always so proud of Caleb. After each game, he would always be sure to give Caleb a hug and get a picture together.

Over winter break that year, Mason had a very special guest come to help coach him at wrestling practice. Former student athlete Max Monday, who is also a United States Marine, came to wrestling practice to help coach. That meant so much to Mason. His face when Max walked in was priceless. More proof of how great our student athletes are.
Just when I thought these young men and women couldn’t get any better, they proved me wrong. This past August Mason was going through difficult times. Some might say that he was ​ depressed. August was going to be the first big home football game in the new stadium. I couldn’t imagine Mason not wanting to be there but, he had no desire to go. I knew then that things were serious and I needed to call in some back-ups. I made a few phone calls and sent a couple of text messages. Within 24 hours, the student athletes let Mason know he needed to be at the first home football game in the new stadium.
Olivia Reiter is the cheer captain for the cheerleading squad. She, along with cheerleaders Emily Hovies and MacKenzie Ebeling made Mason a video personally asking him to come to the game. As a mom, I knew that, no matter what, I needed to make sure he was at that game.
I took Mason to the game and the Raider family did not disappoint! Mason had been missing
a lot of his buddies who had gone off to college but, they all showed up at that game. From Noah
Badger and Caleb Rockey to Cole Stewart, Mason was surrounded by so much love that night. From the cheerleaders to the football players and former student athletes, they were all there for him. This outpouring of support brought a huge smile to his face. That was the start of a great football season for Mason. From the students letting him crowd surf to making sure they took the time to say hi to him before, during and after the games, they all showed my little guy how awesome he is.
Wrestling season came back around along with girls’ basketball and gymnastics. Yet again, the student athletes did not disappoint. Mason met and added a few more buddies that he looks up to. Cole Stewart came back and was one of Mason’s one on one coaches for tournaments. ​ Cole gave up time on his winter break to coach Mason in two different tournaments. Kyle Myers even made an appearance and helped give Mason some pointers before one tournament. He placed first in that tournament! Another student athlete from Bellefonte, Brock Port, had given Cole Stewart a sweatshirt for wrestling. That day, Cole passed the sweatshirt onto Mason. Mason wears it with so much pride and admiration for his buddies.
This past year’s wrestling season was a little more challenging for Mason. His dad suffered a heart attack and his grandfather passed away within a 24 hour period. Mason was to wrestle in the Fornicola tournament on December 21st. People suggested pulling him out of it because of his dad’s health scare and the grief over his grandfather. I let it up to Mason and he wanted to wrestle. I sent a message to Ethan Rossman that morning, explaining that Mason might need a pep talk. Without hesitation, Ethan was right there for him. Having Cole Stewart, Max Monday, Ryan Smith and Coach Mason for that tournament was just what Mason needed. He wrestledhard and placed 6th.

On January 4 th , Mason’s grandfather was laid to rest in Alabama. It hadn’t hit Mason that his Grandpa passed away until he went to call him and I had to remind him that he couldn’t. The tears just wouldn’t stop. All he wanted to do was just sit on the couch and cry. He was overwhelmed with sadness until I told him his buddies were wrestling and we could go see them! We went and even though only Ethan Rossman knew what was going on that day, they all still made him feel special! They were giving him pounds before and after their matches and the smile on his face was all this mom needed.
Mason loves going to the gymnastics meets to see a favorite girl, Sarah Conner and to girls’ basketball to see another favorite girl, Lily Gardner. The support that Lily has always given Mason, when it came to his wrestling, is wonderful to witness. It was also special to watch the support come full circle when Lily brought her mom to watch one of Mason’s scrimmages. At the end of each event Mason is always looking for his friends to make sure they get a picture. Not once have any of them turned him down, win or lose.
This past year, the wrestling team became the 2020 Northwest Regional Champions. We heard that there was going to be a police and fire truck escort coming back to the school, so I asked Tyler Benner about it. He had the idea to make it a surprise for Mason and that he, along with the other guys, needed to give their biggest fan a hug. Sure enough, that’s what happened. Mason was front and center and ready to congratulate all his favorites the second they stepped off the vans. I had some custom shirts for Mason to wear to celebrate and honor his favorites during the wrestling Regional and States.
Most often, it seems that student athletes are praised for their efforts on the field, court or, in the classroom. We tend to overlook that most are great humans too! The lessons they teach outside of the sports and the classes are something worth bragging about. You can earn all the athletic awards along with all of the sports awards ever but, to be a decent human is not something that everyone can say they have accomplished. Every single person mentioned above is simply the best. They have each made such a huge impact not only on Mason’s life but mine as well. No matter where life takes them, we will always be their number one fans.

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