During a ceremony Friday that had the passion of a pep rally, Herington High School received $17,500 from the State Farm Friday Night Feats video contest. The video captured the emotion of the Railer football team that had stumbled on Sept. 9 knowing their coach Bud Peterson had been hospitalized. The team was informed at halftime that Peterson died.
The memorable Sept. 9 game against West Franklin saw Herington with a 10-0 half-time deficit. In the locker room, the team learned their coach had just died. The team responded by scoring three touchdowns in the second half to win 21-10.
Video footage of the game landed Herington High School as one of only 52 schools across the United States and Canada to win $2,500 as part of State Farm’s Friday Night Feats campaign. The company invited the public to upload their high school’s football plays to a website, where votes were cast for cash prizes. The money can be used toward any school need, such as books, classroom supplies, or sports equipment.
Months later, Shelly Langhofer, a Herington native and State Farm office manager in Herington, who was familiar with the Friday Night Feats video contest and Peterson’s daughter, Lisa Beye, also a teacher, talked about submitting a fitting tribute to the coach and players.
The video became a finalist and when the voting ended Dec. 16, Herington’s video had 5,007 votes.
Principal Ken Arnhold said the third place-finisher had 1,179 students in grades 9-12 and the runner-up had 1,735 students. Herington has 141 students in grades 9-12.
His comment noting the HHS enrollment got a loud ovation. He said Herington is a community of 2,365 residents. There were other finalists who had a school enrollment that was larger than the city of Herington.
Arnhold said while Herington was first in the nation and worthy of celebrating, it was also an achievement of school and community coming together.
“Our accomplishment today says a lot about the school and community,” he said.
Rep. Tom Moxley, R-Council Grove, said the recognition went beyond the community.
“The state of Kansas could not be more proud of Herington,” he said.
The contest was a win for Peterson and his family, the school and community, the representative said.
Jim Malinowski, incentives and recognition lead manager for State Farm, a Bloomington, Ill.-based company, said a premise of Friday Night Feats was to celebrate a sense a community. While football games are a focus activity across the country, it is also a celebration of the commitments players, parents and the community as a whole do for a team.
Since the inception of the contest about four years ago, more than $500,000 has been awarded to schools across the United States and Canada, Malinowski said. Funds have been used to help athletic programs, technology laboratories and libraries. That money returns many times over in a local school because it adds an additional resource to help students.
Herington was a deserving recipient, he said.
“Twenty-four hundred folks in Herington came together in a common goal,” Malinowski said.
Malinowski shares a common bond with the Railer team because the project manager has coached high school football for 23 years. As he heard stories about Peterson, there was a successful theme that Malinowski shares with his own players.
“When you wake up (each day) you are average,” Malinowski said. “It’s what you do after that makes you above average. What you did here was way above average and you should all be proud of it.”
Steve Crichton, State Farm agent in Council Grove, who grew up Cottonwood Falls, appreciation the achievement Herington had made.
“Your community came together,” he said, saying it was appropriate to pay tribute to Peterson, who was his friend. “He was a helluva man. He was special on and off the field.”
Crichton said the two men enjoyed talking about football and life. The late coach could mold a good player and make him into a great player.
While demanding on the field, the coach was friendly.
“Bud did not know a stranger,” he said and told those in the audience and the football team, which sat together, to take the same approach into life.
He also remarked that with Herington placing first in a national contest it also showed what a community can accomplish together when it has a common cause. That was a lesson he hoped those who had gathered can take with them years later.
Crichton fired up the crowd in borrowing a phrase often uttered in Dallas, the home of the NFL Cowboys and their new stadium that served as the site for the Cotton Bowl.
“How about those Railers!” Crichton said.
Assistant football coach Pat Baalmann said most of his comments were directed at his team.
“You came together as a team,” he said about the contest, which he said was a salute to Peterson “We could not have won without the support in this community.”
He also pointed out the support of Peterson’s widow, Maureen, and the late coach’s family. Baalmann said when he looked at the packed gymnasium he termed it a community of friends and the importance of staying together.
“Don’t ever forget,” Baalmann said. “When you are feeling down or troubled, think back to that (Sept. 9) night. I’ll never forget this team.”
Superintendent John Thissen told the audience about a conversation he had two years ago with Peterson.
“Bud came into my office two years ago and said he wanted to be Herington High School coach,” Thissen said “It was a surprising to me.”
Peterson had coach Thissen when Thissen was a high school athlete in Kingman. The two men talked about the challenges of rebuilding the program. Thissen was comfortable with the decision to hire Peterson.
“Bud was a very passionate person and he was passionate about everything,” Thissen said.
Even before his death, the program was elevated and obviously improving and Thissen could think back to the conversation he had with Peterson and how the vision was coming to form.
“Bud enjoyed life and coaching and he was very good at it,” he said.
He then commended Baalmann for embracing Peterson’s vision, first as an assistant coach and then as head coach. The video project, undertaken by Beye, could not have been an easy task, and she responded in saluting her father.
In a way, all of the activities were like running a relay in which a runner hands the baton off to the next runner, Thissen said, and Peterson, would have been proud to be a part of that.