Wednesday was a day that LaToya Wilson, mother of St. Michael-Albertville senior Bennie Wilson, had been looking forward to for more than a decade.
"It's like we've been waiting on this day forever," she said Wednesday morning. "It's very surreal."
It was National Signing Day — the day Bennie signed a letter of intent to play football at North Dakota State University and major in exercise science.
Also sharing a moment of their own were seniors Antonio Harris-Bork, signing for football at Concordia University, St. Paul; Madison Barr, soccer at University of Minnesota - Duluth; Madison Sjelin, track and field, and cross country at Minnesota State University, Mankato ; Jessica Johnson, Minnesota State University, Moorhead; and Brendan Sage, track and field, and cross country at South Dakota State University.
They signed letters as their parents, siblings and friends looked on with smiles — many said they felt overwhelming pride.
"You're all very impressive," Brian Benson, STMA Activities Director, said to the students. "Over and over again, you've shown that — with your commitment to academics, your extracurricular activities and with your families. That's a lot that you take on, and you do it well."
He added that the six students are not only a vital part of the school's athletic program, but are also leaders. As he watched the students make the next step in their lives official, emotions were fresh.
"It's hard to find a word to describe that feeling," he told Patch after watching the students sign. "I'm excited for them and what they will do next. I know they are passionate about the programs they take part in and the programs they will go on to take part in. What two better things to have in life than to get an education and to do what you like at the same time?"
Jon Sage, father of Brendan Sage who signed for track, said he saw what all the hours of running his son put in have done.
"It's an extremely proud moment," he told Patch. "To get the offer to go to South Dakota and run — I'm looking forward to seeing him."
Brendan said he's excited to get to know his new coach. Coaches at St. Michael-Albertville High School have been influential in many of the students' success.
Jared Essler, head football coach at STMA High School, told Patch that every year, there are a number of students at the district who sign college athletics contracts.
"It's pretty exciting to know that they enjoy their football experience here so much that they want to continue for the next four years at a college setting," Essler said. "It's kind of a fatherly feeling. Part of coaching is teaching the game, the other part is teaching them the importance of education — that's one thing we really try to preach."
Bennie Wilson said he always wanted to go on to play football at a college level. Making it official on Wednesday was both an excitement and relief to him, he said.
His father, Bennie Wilson Sr. said he was proud to see his son taking a step toward "a place that he'll get to be a better student, a better person, and a better man."