ROSWELL, Ga. -- A special member of the Roswell community took the field with the Roswell High School Hornets at their practice Monday night.
Nine-year-old Rachel Buckner surprised the team to thank them for months of their support.
SEE THE SURPRISE | Photos from Monday night's surprise
At a time when most football teams are focusing on wins and losses, touchdown and tackles, Roswell head coach John Ford insists his players think beyond the field and beyond the school. The team has embraced the theme of "One Roswell, One Community, One School, One Tradition."
It's a theme that brought a team of Roswell's toughest teens together with the fourth grader who is battling Leukemia.
"In July we began to notice symptoms," said Scott Buckner, Rachel's father. "We got a call telling us that she was diagnosed with Leukemia and we had to get her to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta....It's nothing you can prepare for. It's nothing that you would ever expect to happen," Buckner said.
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Rachel's sister is in the marching band at Roswell High School. Weeks after Rachel's diagnosis, her story and her love of the high school football games reached Coach John Ford.
"Football runs in the family," said Buckner.
The team immediately rallied around Rachel. In August they signed a football and sent her posters and cards. Weeks later they held a pep rally, a fund raiser and shaved their heads. In October they named Rachel the "Varsity Football Sweetheart" at the Homecoming Game.
"She's just a huge inspiration to us," said Lawson Duncan, a senior on the team.
"We're just trying to support her because she's supporting us on Friday nights," said junior, Cole Ramaker. "It makes me realize how good my life is; we take everything for granted," he said.
After four months of treatment, Rachel is in remission. She is able to return to school and even earned straight A's on her report card, but she still hadn't met the team that showed her so much support through her treatments.
Monday night she surprised the team to say thank you.
"I was very surprised that the team would do that with their time," Rachel said. "Sometimes when I have to have pricks (shots) at the clinic, I think about the people who helped to support me."
"Seeing her for the first time, it was joyful," said Chase Brewer.
"I mean, that was just a real smile and I'm sure being in hospital beds wasn't as enjoyable as she would like because she's so young and that's really not fair for her," Brewer said.
"Moments like that, you just can't put a price on it. It's just awesome," said Josh Slenda, a senior on the team. "It just really puts stuff into perspective," he said.
The story came to us from a viewer tip. Carrie Kelly said, "In less than 6 months, John Ford, a Spanish teacher with the desire to influence the lives of young men through football had changed our community and made us One Roswell." Do you have a story you want 11Alive to feature? Email us at news@11Alive.com.
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