by Dennis Dalman
An energetic, loud, rambunctious pep rally at Sartell Middle School Jan. 26 suddenly morphed into a big win for fifth-grader Sophie Lathe.
Lathe was one of four students chosen to participate in a Disney-themed version of the TV game show Jeopardy. On the gym floor, in front of hundreds of cheering peers, the four students looked up at the big Jeopardy projection screen, picked their categories and gave their guesses.
When it was Lathe’s turn, she chose “Star Wars for $100” for her category when the clang-clanging sound of the “Daily Double” filled the gym. The students in the bleachers erupted in an ear-splitting roar of cheering and stamping as the Jeopardy screen began to show photos of Sophie and as someone rushed over to place Mickey Mouse ears on Sophie’s head. Just then, words on the screen announced, “Congratulations, Sophie! You’re going to Disney World!”
The students cheered so loudly, it sounded like a dozen thunderstorms.
Stunned, Lathe, sitting in her wheelchair, put her hands over her face and then smiled like sunshine. Her parents and three siblings (dressed in brown Jedi warrior robes) hurried across the gym to congratulate her.
Lathe’s Make-a-Wish had been granted: a trip to Disney World for her and her family. They plan to go to the popular amusement park in Florida this summer.
Lathe suffers from spinal muscular atrophy that robs her of strength and makes it virtually impossible to walk.
Lathe’s surprise grew even brighter when she looked up at the projection screen and suddenly saw a video of actress Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico in the Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. Lathe, who loves Star Wars movies, was overwhelmed to the point of tears when she saw and heard Tran congratulate her and wish her the best.
And then the band began to play. The Middle School Band performed a rousing version of the Mickey Mouse theme song, but instead of M-I-C-K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E, the crowd chanted a high-decibel chanted S-O-P-H-I-E, L-A-T-H-E!
The rip-roaring pep rally was the culmination of Sartell schools’ raising $18,000 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, enough to pay for Lathe’s trip and wishes by two other children. Inspired by efforts of the Sartell High School Student Council, students held many fundraisers. The fundraising campaign for Lathe was spearheaded by high school students Aidan Speckhard and Emma Gunderson.
Dozens of students from Sartell High School led the Sophie Lathe pep rally, leading the middle schoolers in spirited Sabre-sports pep chants.
Lathe is the daughter of Holly and Garrett Lathe. She has three siblings: Emma, Kate and Spencer. Garrett is the choir director for Sauk Rapids-Rice High School; and Holly is a music teacher at Sartell’s Pine Meadow Elementary School.
Mary Steffes of Sartell has been a Make-a-Wish coordinator and “granter” since 2008. She was one of three women who congratulated Lathe at the middle school pep rally.
“The students are the ones who deserve the credit,” Steffes said. “They raised so much money. The student council is so happy about it. That is why the high school and middle school decided to hold a pep rally together.”
Another middle school student recently granted a wish from Make-a-Wish Foundation is Jackson Stewart who wanted a golf cart and was granted one.
Steffes became involved with the foundation when the young son of a friend died of a terminal illness years ago. Make-a-Wish, Steffes noted, used to be for terminally ill young people only, but it is now for those suffering life-threatening medical conditions.
Make-a-Wish, with headquarters in Phoenix was founded in 1980.
Steffes also works as a sub-para for special-needs students in the Sartell-St. Stephen school district. Since her involvement with Make-a-Wish, she has helped coordinate nine wishes that include a trip to Paris, a Disney cruise, a swim with dolphins and a Best Buy shopping spree.