Tuesday was an emotional day at Gonzaga Prep high school in Spokane, as the school honored an alumnus now known around the world for his very public battle with ALS.
18 years ago, Steve Gleason graduated from Gonzaga Prep to begin a football career that led him all the way to the NFL. He left his mark on campus as not only a great football and baseball player, but in the classroom as well.
Who would have guessed, less than two decades later, he'd again come through a tunnel of Bullpup football players. This time, though, he was confined to a wheelchair, only able to speak by moving his eyes on a computer screen.
"I have great memories here," Gleason said, using a synthetic voice. "Some of my best friendships were made here."
Many of those friends joined former coaches and current players Tuesday, packed into a small classroom. They came to celebrate his legacy, one of a man so determined to make life better for others battling ALS.
"ALS, as a disease, is underfunded and largely ignored, leaving many patients to fade away and die." Gleason said. "That is not okay and Team Gleason is working to change that."
Team Gleason's impact is global, inspiring others and improving technology for ALS patients. He's teaching all of us how to live in the face of incredible challenges.
"We need him as much as he needs us, as far as support. And we are able to look at him and say - doggone it - if he's going through it, we are going through it with him" said friend Ray Hattenburg.
"Steve's magnetic," said friend and current Gonzaga Prep football coach Dave McKenna. "He's one of those Gus that draws people in and when you leave, you leave a better person."
Gleason left his mark again this week, with $93,000 in donations. Checks were presented to Catholic Charities, the ALS Evergreen Chapter and Gonzaga Prep, for the scholarship in his name.
Then, Gonzaga Prep did what they've only done a few times before: they retired Gleason's number. No Bullpup will ever wear #34 again. They're honoring Gleason for the player he was and the man he is.
"I know they're retiring Steve's football number, but he wants to be known more for what he's done off the field," said Hattenburg.
Who better to honor than the man who lives what this school taught him all those years ago - to love, give back and have faith.
"More than any other organization, Gonzaga Prep has molded me into the man I am today," said Gleason.