Number One Fan

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Electronic Communications Manager

Coach Miller presenting a signed football to Steve Wanner.  Photo courtesy of Statesville Record & Landmark.

Coach Miller presents a signed football to Steve Wanner. Photo courtesy of Statesville Record & Landmark.

I’ll admit it — I’m not the world’s biggest football fan.  Don’t get me wrong.  The teams I care about, I care about pretty passionately.  Carolina Panthers.  Clemson.  Iowa and Mizzou (I give them obligatory love on behalf of my husband.)  But I don’t watch football games just because they’re on, like some people I know.  (You know who you are.  Kurt.  David.  Rob.)  And on Super Bowl Sunday, you can bet that I’ll be hitting the restroom during the game, rather than the commercials.

But there are many among us who passionately love the game of football.  There are people who keep track of NFL, college, and local high school teams.  They are 100% devoted and not afraid to show it. 

Stephen Wanner is one of those fans. 

Steve is a patient of Hospice & Palliative Care Lake Norman.  A successful, self-made man who put himself through MIT and Harvard, he is slowly reaching the end of his fight with lung cancer that has spread to his brain.  Steve is close friends with Dr. John Latz, whose son is on the football team at South Iredell High School.  And a few years ago, because of his friendship with Dr. Latz, Steve began following the meteoric rise of the South Iredell Vikings football team. 

Members of S. Iredell football team chat with Steve.  Photo courtesy of Statesville Record & Landmark

Members of S. Iredell football team chat with Steve. Photo courtesy of Statesville Record & Landmark

Three years ago, the Vikings hired a new head coach, Scott Miller.  Before Miller came on board, the team had won 36 games in six years.  But since 2010 (only three years), they’ve won 38 games, basically doubling their win rate.  Over the last three years, they came close to getting to Raleigh for the championship game, but never quite succeeded.  But this time they won the whole darn thing.  In a spectacular, down-to-the wire, nail-biter (we’re talking a win in the last seconds), the South Iredell Vikings beat the Carrboro Jaguars for the state championship.

When you win a state championship, you need a token something for your efforts, right?  Well, the team wanted to purchase championship rings but they weren’t going to do it unless they raised enough money to buy one for every single player and coach.  The problem was, it was going to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $27,000. 

And that’s when Hospice & Palliative Care Lake Norman patient Steve Wanner stepped up to the plate (wrong sport, I realize, but I don’t know what the football equivalent is).  Inspired by their determination, positive attitudes, and success, he wrote the South Iredell football team a check for the entire amount to cover the cost of the rings.

How can you possibly thank someone for that kind of generosity?

Well, I’ll tell you how.  On a chilly December morning (before school starts), you take two entire buses full of high school football players and staff, all dressed in their uniforms, to the house of your benefactor.  One by one, you file by the man in his wheelchair, offering your sincere thanks for his amazing contribution to your team.  You present him with a football, signed by each and every player and coach.  You give him a plaque that expresses how extremely grateful you are and then you tell him that another plaque, exactly like it, will be mounted in cast iron and placed at the Vikings field house.  Then you let him know that a ring has been ordered for him, the exact same one that the players will have.  But not just any generic ring.  His ring will be engraved with his name and the words “Number One Fan”.  That’s what you do.

Steve was visibly touched by the outpouring and ceremonial nature of the morning.  He struggled to talk to the team, telling them “it is good that upstanding youth can do upstanding achievements, and even better when fine, upstanding youth can do outstanding achievements.” 

Steve Wanner and the S. Iredell Vikings.  Photo courtesy of Statesville Record & Landmark.

Steve Wanner and the S. Iredell Vikings. Photo courtesy of Statesville Record & Landmark.

The irony, of course, is that what Steve did was outstanding too, even though I’m sure he doesn’t see it that way.  In his mind, he was simply rewarding these kids for pulling together as a team and reaching their goal.  Sure, he wrote a big check.  But it was more than that.  He made an impact on a group of young men at a time in their lives when a good example can shape the actions of the men they will become.  Perhaps what they will remember and recognize is the courage of a man who, despite losing his own battle, found delight in the victory of others. 

So to the South Iredell Vikings, this ring will symbolize a great football season.  But, over the coming years, when they look at their hands, the ring will also represent the essence of a man at the end of life who had generosity and kindness to spare.  Their hands (and hearts) will forever be tied to their “Number One Fan”.

Explore posts in the same categories: awareness, end of life, fundraising, hospice, Hospice & Palliative Care Lake Norman

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7 Comments on “Number One Fan”

  1. Samantha Says:

    that is a tearjerker for sure, thanks for the midday cry Andrea! feels good!

  2. Nicole Says:

    Wonderful story, thank you!!

  3. Michelle Seymour Says:

    Loved this one! Nice job Andrea. 🙂 Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2013 18:42:23 +0000 To:

  4. BBY Says:

    Amazing man, amazing kids – Even if it is a lesson they learn, really learn, years from now!

  5. Anngie Williams Says:

    What a powerful story and a life that has not been lived in vain. These youth are great young men and I love how each of their lives will forever be changed by Steve Wanner and his life’ journey. Thank you for shareing this story!

  6. lgf3 Says:

    Tears of joy – how wonderful!

  7. Christine Says:

    Dear God, may you embrace Mr. Wanner and welcome him home. May your bring comfort and calm to Mrs. Wanner, famliy, and caregiver’s. May you also keep your hands over all of those he’s touched. I pray that you keep his kindness in our memories, forever… For I am one who has been touched by him. Amen.

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