IRON MOUNTAIN - After all the hard work, the ultimate reward officially arrived.
Dean Dompierre got to watch his son Eric play varsity football again.
Eric Dompierre, a 19-year old Ishpeming High School student-athlete with Down syndrome, garnered national headlines this summer as his father worked with the Ishpeming school district to petition the Michigan High School Athletic Association for an age waiver that would allow his son to compete in athletics despite being beyond the state's age limit.
Ron Deuter | Iron Mountain Daily News
Eric Dompierre of Ishpeming looks on from the sidelines Friday at Iron Mountain. Dompierre got his first game action of the season after an MHSAA waiver granted him eligibility to play football and basketball this season.
"It feels great," said Dompierre. "It felt great to watch him run out on the field. It was great relief. We didn't think this day would ever come. It's only through the graces of the tens of thousands of people who signed the petition, wrote letters, the legislators and people who bought t-shirts that he's able to be here tonight. It's like a miracle for us that Eric is able to play."
Turning 19 in January, Eric Dompierre, a senior this fall, was in conflict with a state rule that bars a student from competing in any athletic event if they turn 19 before Sept. 1.
Dompierre began a public campaign for support of his son's cause, including creating a website with an online petition that drew more than 90,000 signatures.
The effort led the MHSAA to alter its bylaws and create a policy to allow students with certain mental and physical disabilities to apply for a waiver for an extra year of legibility. After approval by member schools in July, Eric Dompierre was granted his waiver earlier this month.
"In December when the MHSAA turned us down for a second time, we didn't think there was any way we'd be able to get anything done in time for Eric," Dompierre said. "At that point, we were just working toward helping other kids down the road be able to play.
"It's just great to be here and watch him play."
Friday night against the defending Mid-Peninsula Conference champion Iron Mountain Mountaineers, Eric Dompierre saw his first action in the second half after Ishpeming scored a touchdown to take a 28-0 lead.
Eric Dompierre attempted the extra point. The kick had plenty of height and distance, but sailed just wide right. After another touchdown in the fourth quarter, his kick fell a few feet below the cross bar. He followed that by booting the next kickoff across midfield.
"I thought I was going to make it," Eric Dompierre said of his extra point attempts. "I make them a lot."
Before each try, his teammates rallied around him, offering encouragement and support.
"It feels good to see everybody watching me," Eric Dompierre said. "And it makes me happy when the players give me some confidence."
Both kicks were uncontested by the Mountaineers. Ishpeming players showed their gratitude after the first try by crossing the line of scrimmage to shake Mountaineers players' hands.
"That situation puts things into perspective," Mountaineers head coach Robin Marttila said. "I 'm happy for him. I'm happy he got the opportunity. I know I signed the petition for him to become eligible, and I'm happy for him."
The Hematites won the game 34-0, somewhat of a surprising outcome between two teams predicted to battle for the conference title this fall.
"I never thought he'd be able to get in this game, but very classy on Iron Mountain's part," Ishpeming head coach Jeff Olson said. "He just missed that one which was cool. For him to get any playing time is great, and he got in and was able to kick three times. That's just icing on the cake."
Both ends of the Mountaineer Stadium came to life with applause each time Eric Dompierre entered the game, with cheers of 'Come on Eric' heard from fans of both teams.
"That's the good thing about this situation and that the MHSAA changed the rules," Olson said. "It's not only good for Eric, it's good for everybody else too."
"We worked so hard and sacrificed a lot time to get this done," Dompierre said. "I'm just proud of the community, and not only the Ishpeming community, but the whole Mid-Pen community has been very supportive of Eric."