Tammy Dufford just did what she knew in her heart to be right.
Now she realizes just how many other people’s hearts she has touched.
The Evergreen High School cheerleading coach was one of nine winners of the National High School Spirit Award, which is given annually by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Dufford shares that award directly with Megan Bomgaars, who made the squad last summer as an incoming freshman despite limitations associated with her Downs syndrome.
Dufford, however, knows she shares the award with an entire Cougars squad that learned to see life a little differently.
"It was huge, and so unexpected," Dufford said. "The recognition that has come out of this and the awareness that has come out of this has just been beyond my imagination ee Just doing the thing that was right became a very big deal."
Big enough that Dufford and Bomgaars will spend three days in Washington D.C. to receive their award, although the goal is to bring up to 11 members of the squad that placed third in Jeffco, first at regionals and 12th at the state competition this past season.
"This is an exceptional story and one that embodies all that is good and right about high school sports," said Robert F. Kanaby, NFHS executive director. "Placing the individual above the team's pursuit of winning championships is a perfect example of the spirit of sport.
Coach Dufford, Megan and the rest of the Evergreen cheerleading team are to be congratulated for their great act of sportsmanship."
Dufford has been a campus supervisor at EHS for the past eight years. She took over the cheerleading squad this past summer and was soon handed an unusual test.
Bomgaars wanted to be a cheerleader. She came to tryouts with the blessing of her mother, Chris, and told Dufford something so sweet and simple, it left a lasting impression.
"She said, ‘I want to be a cheerleader because I want to be famous. I can sing and I can dance and I want to be a cheerleader and I’m going to make friends’," Dufford said.
Bomgaars was greeted with open arms and the squad rallied around her, protected her and was prepared to take any heat or criticism that might have come. Fortunately, it never did, and Bomgaars became a true friend to the squad – sleepovers, texting and all. She and the squad were also profiled on numerous local television stations and daily newspapers.
EHS athletic director Tony Barnett nominated Dufford for the award, a gesture she remembers being uneasy about at first due to the fact she thought it would only recognize her efforts and not those of the entire squad.
When an envelope from the NFHS arrived in April, Dufford said she and Barnett opened it together.
"I cried," she said. "It was such a great honor."
To do the award ceremony justice, the entire Evergreen squad is raising money to travel to Washington D.C. for the 89th annual summer meeting. Dufford said donations have been rolling in, especially from groups that provide services for those with Downs syndrome, in addition to families with kids that have the genetic disease and want to help bring positive awareness
While Bomgaars will return to the squad this fall, Dufford will not. With her daughter, Stephanie, off to run track at Colorado State University-Pueblo, Dufford said she needs to be more available for her this upcoming season.
"It was a year of incredible blessing," Dufford said.