ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — At Zeeland East High School, almost everyone knows Johnny DeWitt.
They say hello as he walks the halls each day, helping to deliver packages to the athletic office, cleaning up in the cafeteria and talking to students or anyone who wants to stop.
DeWitt, who has special needs, graduated years ago before there were two high schools, but considers Zeeland East his home away from home. He has devoted his life to making sure it is the best it can be.
“You got to like what you do, and win or lose, I’m here,” he said.
Win or lose is a reference to football, his true passion. He goes to every game, often riding the bus with the team, and considers the players extended family — a feeling that is reciprocated.
“It’s like family with him. You really can’t measure it; with the energy he brings on Friday nights. John has made a lot of contributions to our team. Our program wouldn’t be the same without the DeWitt family,” head coach Derek Pennington said.
Those contributions go beyond school spirit. DeWitt and his family have made several significant donations to the school, including the strength and conditioning room that now bears his name on a sign at the entrance.
DeWitt is happy to point out all the pictures of him in the room and likes to see his name above the door but says the reason for the donation was simple: The equipment was old and ragged.
“I paid for most of this stuff here and to renovate it. It’s an honor to do this,” he explained.
Watching the room in use is where the investment pays off.
“That makes me happy when they use it and stuff. I think it’s done a lot for kids that want to go to college and work, go on with their athletics,” DeWitt said.
DeWitt loves to see the athletes in action, spending every Friday on the sidelines helping cheer them on and helping get the fans excited. He has so much school spirit, there is an award named after him: the Johnny D. Spirit Award.
“We try to select students who embody Johnny DeWitt, which when we think of (him) here, we’re talking about school spirit, about caring and going the extra mile for others,” principal Jessica Knoth explained.
Pennington treats DeWitt like one of his players. He sees how contagious the school spirit can be for students.
“I think they see John and how he brings happiness and excitement to everything he does. He is just a great contributor and energy to our program every day,” Pennington said.