An enormous dumpster might not be the first thing a high school administrator wants a few thousand fans to see welcoming them to the stadium on a football Friday. But when the contents of that dumpster can go a long way to support a worthy charity, it’s an easy decision.
If that dumpster outside the gate at Maize High was filled with aluminum cans by the end of the game Friday night, the Eagles would be well on their way to continuing an already successful relationship with Kansas Honor Flight.
Maize cheerleaders have been gathering at Eisenhower National Airport to welcome home veterans returning from trips to Washington for more than a year. They spread their philanthropy to other groups at Maize High and in the greater community, culminating in a massive military appreciation night surrounding Friday’s game against Eisenhower.
“It started with collecting cans to donate to help raise funds, and it just kind of snowballed from there,” Maize cheerleading coach Lori Clinton said. “We’ve been going out just about every Friday to receive the honor flights at the airport for about a year and a half, and this summer we started thinking about what else we can do.”
It started with the idea for the dumpster. Allmetal Recycling, which will recycle the cans and donate the proceeds, brought the dumpster and put it 50 feet from the ticket booths.
Then Clinton wanted to build a float for the Maize fall festival. When the volleyball team heard about the event, the players wanted to donate their share of the 50-50 drawing they put on at the football game.
Clinton suggested that the football team accompany the cheerleaders to the airport on a Friday. They did, and they were hooked.
Add in a half dozen Jeeps and Humvees from the Mid-Kansas Military Vehicles Preservation Association and 20-plus motorcycles adorned with American flags from local chapters of the American Legion Riders, and the event went well past placing a donation jar at the entrance.
“This has just turned into a great event,” Maize athletic director Eric Wolgast said. “In early August when the cheerleaders contacted me, I said ‘Absolutely, let’s get it done.’ I asked what they needed me to do, but they really did everything. We wanted to see if we couldn’t raise some money and some awareness and get people to donate to get more veterans out to D.C. to be able to visit these memorials, and I think we were able to do that.”
Pat Leon, a Kansas Honor Flight volunteer, and her son Chris, a Maize graduate, have been collecting cans and donating their time to the organization for years. Their connection to the Maize cheerleaders helped start the snowball effect.
And while donations are what helps keep veterans flying to Washington each week, Leon said the experience those veterans have when they’re greeted back in Wichita is priceless.
“We’ve had so many of the veterans say how special it is to see the cheerleaders,” she said. “When they come out here, especially that first one they did, it was so touching. They poured their hearts into these veterans, learning about them and learning the history. It’s just so wonderful and healing for the veterans to see.”
With the first chance at a military appreciation night being such a success, Clinton isn’t sure where to go next, but the cheerleaders will be back at Eisenhower National on Sept. 23 for the next honor flight, and there will certainly be another event next year.
“Hopefully it’s even bigger next year,” she said. “But this is great. We’ll take this kind of turnout and support every year.”