As the Caledonia, Minnesota, varsity football team was making its run at a third straight state Class AA title (and 41st straight win) this past season, one young fan was preparing to be in the middle of it all … until a frightening cancer diagnosis took that all away.
As the Rochester Post-Bulletin and La Crosse's WXOW.com report, 7-year-old Josiah Schroeder was diagnosed with leukemia in September, just as his favorite team was kicking off its winning season. Josiah was able to watch the team play last year, but this year, the P-B reports his treatment schedule at Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus wouldn't allow it.
The team carried on with the season, but media outlets report that Josiah was never far from the minds of the players and coaching staff. In addition to donating "all of the proceeds from their annual Tackle Cancer game" to Josiah's family, each Warriors player wore a "JJ" sticker on the back of his helmet during the team's championship game in Minneapolis on Nov. 24.
And after the game, they took their support a step further. On the way home to Caledonia, the team stopped at the hospital to see their No. 1 fan. "We just did it to brighten his spirits," assistant coach Brent Schroeder tells the P-B. "We had a special bunch of kids this year, but this was about more than just football. They were very humbled."
As was Josiah. "It was awesome, he loves football," Josiah's dad, Kyle Schroeder, tells the paper. "It was a class act by the football team." The team presented Josiah with one of the game balls from the team's victory against the Pipestone Arrows. And as the P-B reports, "senior All-State quarterback Owen King" handed his state championship medal to Josiah as Josiah's parents watched with appreciation and admiration. "I was impressed how these young men, at a high (point) in their life, came to see him, at a low (point)," Kyle Schroeder tells the paper.
And though Josiah is still early in his recovery journey, scouting reports suggest that he's impressing there, too. The Post-Bulletin reports that his care team at Mayo Clinic may soon allow him to go home and receive his treatments there. "He's just got to work on healing and getting better," assistant coach Schroeder tells the paper.
When he does, Caledonia's head coach, Carl Fruechte, says he has an open roster spot waiting for Josiah. "He's got the intangibles to naturally do it and to never give up," Coach Fruechte tells WXOW.com. "Those are the qualities you are looking for. It is not always about how you can throw or catch or run. It's what is in your heart, and he obviously passes that test."