COON RAPIDS, Minn. (WCCO) – There’s always a kid who’s unforgettable long after they leave high school.
In Coon Rapids, the red-headed Billy Harper was a Cardinal football player and beloved student who melted plenty of hearts and minds.
According to his close friend, Cullen Bartz, Billy was an inspiration to his town.
“If we all had the attitude and spirit of Billy Harper, that’s what makes Coon Rapids a great place,” Bartz said.
Billy’s mother died unexpectedly in August 2009, while he was at football practice. Although he was orphaned, Billy was not abandoned. The school community came together and surrounded him with love.
He grew up with little, but those who knew him best say he never complained. Football booster Gary Duckert said Coon Rapids’ coaching staff took it upon themselves to make sure Billy succeeded.
“Some of the coaching staff took him in and made sure he’d finish high school and go to prom, had an open house for him and made sure he went to college,” Duckert said.
The Cardinal football player and honor student went on to college at University Minnesota-Duluth. Tragically, it was there last December when Billy’s recently diagnosed diabetes suddenly stole his life.
“He’s a kid who deserves to be remembered so that people know who he was and what his story was,” Duckert said.
Friday night’s homecoming game will make certain of that. When the Cardinal football team takes to the field, each player will carry Harper’s number 80 on their helmet. For spectators, the center of the game program will include a tribute to Harper.
Head football coach, Jon Young, chokes with emotion as he recalls the kid who lost so much, but gave so much more.
“He’s with us every day. He’s a constant reminder of all that’s good with our school and community. He was just an upstanding young man who overcame lots of adversity,” Young said.
A memorial fund set up in Billy’s honor will provide a $500 annual college scholarship to a graduating Coon Rapids senior.
Tax deductible contributions can be made to the following:
Coon Rapids Community Scholarship Association
Attn: Billy Harper Memorial Scholarship
PO Box 48144
Coon Rapids, MN 55448-0144