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Viral photo lands local student-athletes on national television

Viral photo lands local student-athletes on national television
Charles City senior Mario Hoefer and New Hampton junior Carter Steinlage recorded a nationally-televised interview with GMA-3, an ABC news program, from Comet Field in Charles City on Monday. (Press photo James Grob.)
Viral photo lands local student-athletes on national television
GMA3 host T.J. Holmes interviews New Hampton junior Carter Steinlage, left, and Charles City senior Mario Hoefer on a nationally-televised interview from Comet Field recorded in Charles City Monday morning, regarding a photo showing Hoefer helping Steinlage stretch out a cramp during a football game that has gone viral as an example of good sportsmanship. (ABC screen grab)
Viral photo lands local student-athletes on national television
Charles City senior Mario Hoefer and New Hampton junior Carter Steinlage record a nationally-televised interview with GMA-3, an ABC news program, from Comet Field in Charles City on Monday. (Press photo James Grob.)
By James Grob,

Some moments are bigger than the game. Sometimes unexpectedly so.

Monday morning, Charles City varsity football player Mario Hoefer and New Hampton’s Carter Steinlage were seated next to the field where one of those moments happened, recording an interview to be aired on national television.

T.J. Holmes, longtime journalist and current anchor of the news program GMA3 — a spinoff of ABC’s Good Morning America show — asked Hoefer and Steinlage questions about their actions on the football field during Charles City’s game against New Hampton on Sept. 3.

“Fellas, I am in awe of you,” Holmes told the two young men. “You’ve said something that a lot of adults in this country could actually learn something from.”

Holmes expressed his admiration for both student-athletes as he closed the segment.

“Given a lot of the stuff we see in both social media and regular media — and how we often treat each other — you two are a very good example of how it’s OK to be a good guy and do the right thing, even if it’s inconvenient,” Holmes said.

The Comets took a 14-8 win over the Chickasaws that night, but the final score isn’t remembered nearly as much as the photo, which, as they say, “went viral.”

“I had no idea the picture would go viral,” said Wendy Luft of Charles City, who took the photo and shared it on her Facebook page, along with several other snapshots she took of the game. “I remember grabbing my camera and snapping the photo thinking I just wanted to remember that single moment.”

The photo is of Hoefer helping Steinlage stretch out a leg cramp. Steinlage is on his back in obvious pain, and Hoefer is pulling his leg straight in an attempt to ease the cramping, at least until the team trainer could get to Steinlage.

Hoefer said that cramping had been an issue for several players on the field that night, including him.

“Because I’d been fighting cramps, I could feel what he felt,” Hoefer said. “With nobody else over there, it was my first instinct to help him.”

Hoefer said that some of his teammates were calling for him to get back in the huddle, but “I couldn’t just leave him there — that just didn’t feel right.”

“It was just an instinct,” he said. “I’d been experiencing cramps the entire game on my own sideline, and I had my teammates there to help me.”

Steinlage said that he was grateful that Hoefer didn’t let him suffer alone.

“I was yelling and screaming in pain, and Mario just came over and helped me out,” Steinlage said. “I was glad someone did, because I didn’t want to have to wait for the trainer to come all the way across the field.”

Luft said she wasn’t surprised that the photo she put on social media received a lot of likes and comments from parents of both Charles City and New Hampton players, but she didn’t expect the photo to go national.

Initially, it was mentioned on most sports broadcasts across the state of Iowa. Since then, it’s been covered on People magazine’s online news site, the Today Show online, ESPN and other national sports networks and it was even retweeted by Hollywood actress Jamie Lee Curtis, among others.

“Under the Friday night lights, in rural Iowa, an athlete reached out and helped another who was hurting during a game,” Luft said. “It was a great moment to watch and I’m honored to have had the opportunity to capture it for everyone to see.”

Hoefer said he was excited to see the photo tweeted and reposted by members of his favorite NFL team, the New Orleans Saints, as well as former Iowa Hawkeye star and current NFL tight end George Kittle, who plays for the San Francisco 49ers.

“If this is touching them, guys who play at the top level, any negative comments don’t matter,” he said. “That won’t change the person I am, and it won’t change who I am going to help today.”

Hoefer said his father, Erik Hoefer, who coaches and teaches at Charles City, is a big advocate of sportsmanship.

“At the time, I wasn’t really thinking about making him proud, I just wanted to help,” he said. “I’ve seen people comment that I was raised right, but I’ve been everywhere, and I think it’s normal for me to do those types of things, because it’s the little things that always matter.”

Steinlage said that sportsmanship is stressed by his coaches at New Hampton.

“At New Hampton, they push sportsmanship, and always helping your opponent up, so that’s where I think I’ve learned a lot of it,” he said.

Both of the athletes said that they were nervous about appearing on national television on Monday, but the ordeal was much easier than they had expected.

“It was a fun experience,” Steinlage said. “It felt just like having a conversation with someone.”

Hoefer said that he wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but when the moment came, the words just came to him. He said he’s received a lot of messages and even phone calls from people all over the world, most of them telling him how proud they are of him.

“It’s crazy, because these people don’t even know me,” Hoefer said. “I just thought it was the littlest thing, but it impacted their lives a lot. I just think it’s really cool, for people from that far away to show support like that.”

“It’s a cool experience, seeing myself all over social media,” Steinlage added. “I just never thought anything like that would happen in my life.”

Hoefer said that he thinks the excitement over the photo indicates that people might be craving positive news.

“Just because there are bad things going on in America, people like to know that there are good things, too,” Hoefer said. “I think that’s why so many people have our backs.”

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