ELYRIA — Fans of the Elyria Pioneers were treated to a special evening Friday as the district celebrated the dedication of the Mercy Health Field at Ely Stadium.
Prior to the main events, all senior football players, cheerleaders and band members, along with their parents or guardians, were honored on the new turf field.
Mothers held flowers while others wore buttons depicting their child either playing a musical instrument, cheering or being a member of the football team.
It was a night to remember for all seniors — and it was a night to honor veterans.
But what came next brought the crowd to their feet as they turned their heads toward the south sky.
As a plane passed by at 6:30 p.m., two men parachuted, targeting toward the turf field.
Yet what made their appearance so special was the story behind their fall.
North Ridgeville native Dana Bowman, a retired sergeant first class with the U.S. Army and a member of the special forces and the Army’s elite parachute team, the Golden Knights, parachuted into Ely Stadium carrying a 2,000-square-foot American flag to honor veterans.
And he did it with two prosthetic legs.
Bowman lost both legs in a training exercise with the Golden Knights in Yuma, Arizona, in 1994, when he collided mid-air with teammate Sgt. Jose Aguillon while practicing a maneuver they’d performed dozens of times. Aguillon died instantly, and Bowman spent months in recovery but was determined to continue his military career. After only nine months, he jumped again with the Golden Knights. He became the first double amputee to re-enlist with the U.S. Army.
Bowman retired from the Army in 1996 and is president and founder of HALO for Freedom Warrior Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to wounded warriors.
Assisting Bowman at the dedication ceremony was Elyria native Doug Doss, EHS class of 1981.
However, after the two exited the plane, it was evident that the wind was a little bit stronger than the duo had hoped for.
While Doss landed on the field, Bowman’s parachute and flag carried him into a small field just behind the stadium. At first it appeared that he may have become entwined with the trees, but he walked into the stadium minutes later.
As the National Anthem played, veterans held the flag carried by Bowman.
Just after the ceremony ended, Bowman stood by the podium on the track, sharing a life lesson with the crowd.
“We didn’t land on our target tonight and sometimes we don’t land on our target, but it’s not a big deal,” Bowman said. “Every day it’s a fight to make it in our world, and that’s what we (soldiers and veterans) do … and we have to land on target together.”
Joining Bowman on the Mercy Health Field at Ely Stadium was Elyria native Tianna (Madison) Bartoletta, a two-time U.S. Olympian and three-time gold medalist.
Bartoletta first made her mark in track and field at EHS as a student-athlete, earning multiple team and individual championships, including a record-breaking long jump. She graduated from EHS in 2003 and attended the University of Tennessee, where she continued her stellar athletic career, earning multiple titles and setting new records.
As a professional, Bartoletta has traveled the world, earning championships and setting records. Most notably, she is a two-time U.S. Olympian with three gold medals.
But after traveling the world, driving from Cleveland to her hometown of Elyria, Bartoletta said she felt as if she was going home again.
For the first time in seven years, Bartoletta was home again.
“Hey family!” she said from the new track. “I drove in and saw a sign that said, ‘Elyria, Home of Tianna Madison’ and it occurred to me that I am home. I have been everywhere, and nothing feels like coming to Elyria, Ohio, and coming to another Friday night football game.”
Bartoletta thanked the fans in the crowd who supported her long before she became an Olympic gold medalist.
“Thank you for being here for me when it all started … but not on a track like this,” she said, laughing.
Bartoletta is training for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Elyria Schools spokeswoman Amy Higgins said a lot of preplanning went into the Friday dedication ceremony.
“Elyrians have waited for this moment for so long,” she said Friday.
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