GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It was a special night at Forest Hills Northern, and it was about more than just the scoreboard.
On Friday, the school officially retired No. 3, the jersey number of the school’s favorite son who went on to be a star athlete at Michigan State University before his life was lost two years ago in a traffic crash.
It was a big night for the Huskies of Forest Hills Northern, and the blue and black faithful were out in force. But most of them were wearing the green and white of MSU in tribute to the all-star punter who died in a crash in Wisconsin two years ago this July.
But those who came out Friday were there to celebrate and extraordinary life that ended far too soon.
Spartan football fans remember a play against Iowa in 2013 that head coach Mark Dantonio named “Hey Diddle Didle,” where Sadler ran a fake punt 25 yards for a first down, helping propel MSU to victory.
But at Forest Hills Northern, Sadler is remembered as one of them. The 24-year-old is seen as more than just a role model.
“He consistently displayed those characteristics of what we expect in our Huskies,” said FHN Principal Jon Gregory.
Sadler was an athletic all-star and he excelled academically – he graduated high school with better than a 4.0 GPA and earned a bachelor’s in engineering and a master’s in public policy at MSU.
When he died, he was already enrolled at Stanford Law School.
It was the idea of the members of the football team to retire No. 3 as a tribute to Sadler.
Sadler’s mother, Karen Sadler, is a teacher at the school. She was embraced in a hug by the team as they took the field beside a rock painted by students as a tribute to her son. During the game, Forest Hills Northern players each wore Sadler’s last name on the back of their jersey.
And she embraces the Forest Hills Northern community.
“Every life is valuable, but this life meant something to a lot of people that is ongoing, so we’re grateful for that and we’re also grateful that it’s the Forest Hills Northern family, he was always a Husky,” Sadler said.
She says he would be typically humbled.
“He’d say ‘I can’t believe all these people are doing this because of me,’ but you know what? He earned it. He earned it,” Sadler said.
Many of his former MSU teammates flew in from as far away as California to see this tribute, joining her in the middle of the field during half-time of the game against Northview.
She was handed his jersey as the number was forever retired.
The Mike Sadler Foundation stands as a legacy to the young man by providing scholarships.