It was the news they had hoped they would get after putting in all of their hard work, but for a group of Pennsylvania Special Olympians, they never expected it would be Steelers' cornerback Joe Haden delivering the news.
Haden, a Global Ambassador for Special Olympics in support of his brother, Special Olympian Jacob Haden, joined Mike Ermer, the Head of Team Pennsylvania delegation for the USA Games, to deliver a special message to 10 deserving athletes.
They were selected to represent Team PA in bowling at the USA Games in Orlando in 2022. The athletes, who are from all over the state, including Allegheny, Somerset and Montgomery counties, will be among more than 120 who will represent Pennsylvania in the games.
On Wednesday night, Haden surprised them on a zoom call and the excitement level was through the roof, and there were even some tears.
"I am really excited to tell you that you are going to represent Team PA," Haden told the athletes one-by-one, each getting their own private time with Haden. "I know you are going to do a great job. Your hard work and determination have paid off."
With many of their families cheering in the background, the athletes marveled at the news.
"I can't believe it," exclaimed Chassidy Addleman from Clearfield County. "I can't believe it."
"Oh my God, I got picked," said Heather Saylor from Somerset County. "I'm speechless. I am sorry I am so speechless."
Haden's smile never left the entire night, just thrilled to be sharing the news as it made him think of the excitement Jacob has when he competes.
"It's almost more for me than it was for them," said Haden. "Just the excitement and the joy. When I see that legitimate passion, excitement, the kid just being happy. That brought me back to seeing my brother, to know how happy he is to just to bowl, play bocce ball, those are the sports he plays. Just for these Special Olympics kids to be able to go to Orlando, and they were so excited because they have never been to Orlando. It's the little things in life … that's what it's about. It's the little stuff that brings smiles to people's faces."
Some of the athletes talked about being Steelers fans with Haden, while others showed off their ribbons and awards in the background.
It was simply, beyond special.
"It's incredible," said Ermer. "It means so much more, not just from an NFL player, but somebody who is invested in the Special Olympics movement like he is. I know it's so special to him and so personal. You can just tell the way he was interacting with the athletes that it meant a lot to him. When you have that kind of energy, that back and forth, it's incredible.
"It was tangible. He was having fun with the athletes, goofing around with them a little bit. That is Special Olympics. It's relationship building. Even if you have never met them before, you are all part of this same movement. Everybody has a common bond. You just have immediate friends."