STORY BY MIA BRAVO | PHOTOS BY NIKKI WILLIAMSON
PAPILLION, Neb. – Stefen Rice is no ordinary Patriots fan. He is one of the lucky few with a ticket to the Super Bowl this Sunday. With the help of the Nebraska Make-A-Wish Foundation, Stefen not only has a ticket to the game, but he also has plans to tour the University of Phoenix Stadium and meet some Patriot players while in Arizona. His wish was granted because of his lifelong battle with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, an inherited disorder that has affected his muscle function over time.
Former Patriot lineman Buck Rasmussen stopped by Papillion-La Vista South High School on Wednesday to help kick off Stefen’s exciting weekend. In a televised interview at the school, Rasmussen told KETV, “I’m just so happy for him that his dream’s going to come true, and I’m happy to see the support system that he has.”
After a pizza party in teacher Renee Hahn’s class, Stefen headed downstairs, where a crowd of Titan students had gathered for a surprise sendoff that included the pep band, the Titan cheerleading squads and his cheering peers.
“He was totally shocked his classmates would think of him in that way,” said Hahn, who teaches Stefen’s 6th-hour trigonometry class. “He had no expectations of that. To him, it was just going to be a food day.”
With the help of Special Education Department Head Nate Cain and Assistant Principal Kati Settles, the day turned out to be so much more. The two arranged for Rasmussen’s visit as well as the big Titan sendoff.
“He deserves all the opportunities they’ve got to offer,” Cain said.
PL South prides itself on what Cain called an “inclusive culture” for special education students.
“I think it’s wonderful our school embraces students of all kinds,” Hahn said. “Our special education students are teaching our students something. They have a unique perspective others don’t have; they’re good with people and building relationships of all kinds. They teach our students gratitude.”
Stefen is known around school for being smart and funny, and for his expertise in maneuvering his wheelchair through the hallways.
His Arizona adventure was set to start bright and early, with a departure time of 4:15 a.m. today.
“Can’t wait for Sunday,” he told KETV.
No matter the final score, Stefen said he would always support his team. “I stuck with the Patriots, from about 3rd or 4th grade. That was about 10 years ago, when they were actually winning.”
His prediction? “Patriots 28-17.”