WARREN, Mich. -- For many of the De La Salle Collegiate football players that gathered at Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital Thursday morning, it was the first time they had seen their brothers in person since mid-March. It certainly drummed up some emotions.
But seeing the reactions of Ascension health care workers as they entered and exited the hospital during their 7 a.m. shift change showed that the players themselves were not the only ones overwhelmed with emotion.
"Playing on Friday nights is special, but it's building relationships and developing our sense of community that create memories," said Pilots varsity head coach Dan Rohn, whose team gathered to support the workers with loud applause and words of gratitude. "This is an opportunity for our kids to be a part of something special and understand the big picture."
More than 125 players, parents, coaches and faculty gathered to honor the workers. Junior Varsity head coach Rich Roskopp helped facilitate the event for the program.
"We were looking to do something to give back to the community," Roskopp said. "It's been a difficult year for us, so we were looking to jump start the new year and get everything going. We're right next to the hospital, so it's within our community."
Roskopp believes the kids and adults made a difference.
"Seeing the smiles, then they start cheering back to us," Roskopp said. "Hearing them tell us, 'Thank you.' One girl started crying and she was videotaping it as she went through. That's what we're here for. It was a great turnout."
Gary Druskovich, president and CEO of the hospital, was very appreciative of the planned event.
"The local community support has been tremendous. We've have had support from the restaurants, the manufacturers, from someone who donated 100 pair of of clogs," he said. "But the emotional support is just as important at this time. The people have been through a tough journey. We always talk about the victims in the hospital, but there are always the second victims. Those are the people who see the death, who see the destruction. They are the people we are seeing right now.
"It speaks to the Catholic nature of the school. It speaks to the Catholic nature of the hospital. That common bond we have, caring for the community. That's just key."
The students themselves seemed to enjoy the reaction of the workers.
"It's a great experience," freshman Brady Drogosh said. "Everything we've done, everything we've been through, it's great to get back out into the community. It was so great to see everybody."
Rohn said this is the first of many special events his team will participate in.
"One of the biggest staples for our program will be giving back to our community, to our alumni," Rohn said. "When you're a Pilot, you're going to be a lot more than just a football player. You're going to embrace the entire process.
"This will be a memory. This will be something they'll talk about for a long time. Our kids really get it, and so does our community. It's really special to be a part of it."