Coon Rapids High School student inspires pep fest

Coon Rapids High School student Dakota Forness had something big planned for his senior Homecoming.

Classmates jump to their feet with a deafening roar as Dakota Forness walks across the gym toward the Cardinal flag.
Classmates jump to their feet with a deafening roar as Dakota Forness walks across the gym toward the Cardinal flag.Photo by Olivia Koester

“When you’re a Cardinal, you never stand alone,” Forness, who has cerebral palsy, said from his wheelchair at the pep fest Sept. 27. Then Forness stood and walked, something his classmates had never seen him do.

Everyone in the field house leapt to their feet and the place erupted with applause, tears and chants of “Dakota! Dakota!”

“I probably would have cried, but all the liquid in my body went to sweat instead of tears,” Forness said.

Forness has been working with physical therapists since last spring to stand and walk for the first time since infancy.

“He is viewed as a hero to a lot of people,” said Tara Larkin, department lead for special education at the high school. “He really, truly has smiled in the face of adversity.”

Every year, the junior class chooses someone to bear the school flag and lead school spirit efforts the following year. Last spring, the class of 2014 picked Forness, and he wanted to give them a Homecoming to remember.

He brought the idea to stand and walk for the first time to his teachers in early September and they started practicing in the gym.

At first, he was walking in circles, but soon he was marching in a straight line, as he did Sept. 27.

Forness prepared a speech for the pep fest, but midway through he lost his place and decided to wing it, saying, “I know that the Cardinals got my back.”

In his address, he continued to return to his strong sense of Cardinal pride. “We’re deeper than a school – we’re a family,” he said.

Then, he stood and walked to the center of the field house to retrieve the Cardinal flag as classmates jumped to their feet, whooping and hollering. There were few dry eyes in the gymnasium.

The football team rushed over to Forness, encircled him and began chanting his name.

Classmates swarmed Forness, asking to take photos with him.

Forness’ mother, Amy Rahne, squeezed past the mob to give her son a giant hug. He didn’t know she would be there.

Rahne said that she only found out about her son’s plans three days before the pep fest. “I had no idea it was going to be this big,” she said.

Forness did not want her to come because he didn’t want to mess up in front of her, he said.

“I couldn’t imagine not seeing it,” Rahne said. “He’s a great kid. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

“All I really wanted to do was show school spirit,” Forness said after the pep fest, amazed at the reaction his undertaking inspired.

“I have achieved victory,” he said.

Olivia Koester is at
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