Sparta, Cedar Springs — Students from Sparta’s Men and Ladies of Honor clubs were joined by members from Cedar Springs Schools to help kick off the seventh annual Freedom Cruise in Sparta. This community event honors those who have sacrificed their lives for the country, and this year, coincided with the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Community members and honored participants gathered in the Sparta High School parking lot before the 11-mile cruise through Alpine Township and Comstock Park. Live music, raffle drawings, food trucks and some booths with connections to veteran services or related clubs were part of the event.
The athletic stadium hosted the program honoring Gold Star families (those who have lost a family member in the armed forces) which included presenting a portrait to the family of this year’s honored recipient, Sergeant First Class Richard J. Herrema. The Men and Ladies of Honor clubs from both schools led the Pledge of Allegiance.
“The school district was wonderful to work with,” said Freedom Cruise organizer, Tom Antor. The district helped arrange the space, donate equipment, and renamed the football game the night before – The Patriot Game. Among other highlights, the game ball was delivered to the field from the air.
After-school Clubs Emphasize Character, Service
In its third year at Sparta Middle School, the Men of Honor and the Ladies of Honor groups meet once a week after school.
The group is designed to help build character and keep kids out of adversity,” said one of the club leaders, Stephen Kline. “We aim to give them values to hold onto and prepare kids to be future leaders,” he said.
The Men of Honor got its start in 2003 in Texas, after founder Tony Rorie, a middle school principal, started to meet weekly with four students. The club grew quickly and a Ladies of Honor group was started soon after. Today, groups are found around the world, with 14 schools in the West Michigan area, according to another leader, Randy Badge, of Cedar Springs.
The groups concentrate on character building, including everything from manners to leadership skills, including goals such as honesty, integrity, and selflessness. Each meeting starts with snacks, the Pledge of Allegiance, a few songs and then a message, said Kline. Messages may be from the Bible or stories of heroic historical figures.
Service projects are a focal point and aimed at teaching compassion and common courtesy. An example was making flower arrangements for the female middle school staff for Teacher Appreciation Week.
Kayla Walters, who is a senior at Cedar Springs High School and club member, can’t get enough of the special projects. “I just love being involved and getting to do the service projects, such as visiting seniors and helping with crafts at Green Acres.” Kayla also mentioned another event honoring Kent County police officers, Cedar Springs firefighters and the school’s retiring resource officer, Deputy Thomas McCutcheon.
All of the group leaders are volunteers, said Kline, who is joined by varsity football coach Mark Chapman in working with the Sparta club. Kline said that the clubs fit well with Sparta’s school culture. “This district is so amazing in embracing family values and building leadership character,” he said.