Screams well beyond the normal decibel level filled the cafeteria Friday at the Annunciation Blessed Virgin Mary School in McSherrystown.
It seemed plausible that the noise of 249 students could be heard for miles. Through the noise, one could make out chants of "Dominate!" and "Move those chains, move those chains!"
A sea of purple and black filled the room for one final dress down day to honor a classmate's favorite team. The student body didn't realize a shocking surprise awaited them.
Publicists were on hand to announce that Mr. No. 27 himself, Ray Rice, picked up the tab for the school's Ravens Friday donating four cases of footballs, and T-shirts for everyone bearing either his name or Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. "My team is on the way to deliver a Purple Friday pizza party and pep rally to the ABVM school in McSherrystown, PA," Rice stated on his Facebook page early Friday morning. "I'm rewarding the kiddos for the kindness they showed to their 8 yr old classmate who recently lost everything in a house fire ..."
The act of kindness was geared toward third-grader Giana Hoddinott and her family. The Hoddinotts, who are die-hard Ravens fans, lost everything they owned in a house fire nearly two weeks after Christmas. To show their love and support for the family, students at ABVM held $1 Ravens dress down Fridays for three weeks. All proceeds - $2,250.25 in total - were donated to the Hoddinotts.
"Seeing every one of your faces has made my day," Giana's mother Angela told students in a teary speech. "We are just so overwhelmed."
In addition to monetary donations, fellow classmates gave Giana "Christmas" presents in an effort to bring back what was lost. Giana waited until she got home from school that day to open her presents. When she finally got the wrapping paper off, she found her peers had given her gift cards, a journal, an American Girl doll, a horse to accompany the doll and clothing from her favorite store Justice.
"Giana is putting it all together that you can lose everything," Angela said. "But this is way more meaningful to her, I think, than what Santa put under the tree. Nobody knew, but some of the stuff she received was exactly what Santa had brought."
Through all the donations and camaraderie, BVM and the Hoddinott family are still astounded that Rice found the story in the first place.
The Hoddinotts story of the devastating fire was shared in a newspaper article Jan. 25, and since then, the family has seen an explosion of community and school support. Shockingly, support came from Rice - Giana's favorite Ravens' player. According to Rice's publicist, Deb Poquette, fan interaction peaked Rice's interest.
"A fan found the article on the Internet, and sent the link to Ray," Pocket said. "Ray is really interactive and close with his fan base. People send him stuff like that all the time. He just does it on his own with the people that surround him."
Rice went on to explain his interest in a text message sent to Poquette.
"Someone sent me the article about the house fire and how Giana's classmates put aside team rivalries to come up with a way to support and lift the spirits of this little girl," Rice explained. "The story really touched my heart, and I just wanted to do something to reward the kindness displayed by the entire student body at the ABVM school."
Although the players - in New Orleans and getting ready for the Super Bowl - couldn't be on hand for the pep rally, Poquette came to the event, making sure to capture every moment for the Ravens running back.
"We're all so excited," Poquette said. "There's so much purple! It's awesome to see how the kids put aside their rivalries for this little girl, especially here in Steeler Country. I can't even imagine how she feels."
In a small twist, Rice ended up getting a few surprises in return. The students presented Poquette with a personalized gift basket for Rice. The other surprise came as a donation. Rice was expecting to pick up the tab for everything that day, but A Westminster, Md. chain of Ledo Pizza stepped in and said all pizza would be covered by the company.
"The folks from the Ray Rice Foundation had called us earlier that week, and told us they were doing this really good deed, so we said 'Sure. Let's do some pizzas,'" said Will Robinson, vice president of Ledo Pizza.
Ledo Pizza donated 35 large pizzas, or about 1,000 slices for the pep rally.
"It was a very heart-warming day," Robinson said. "Of course we are all saddened by the house fire, but it's a good thing to see people come together." The Hoddinotts continue to be extremely thankful and appreciative of the love and support from their school and community. Throughout all the hugs, tears and "thank yous," they never would have thought they would end up extending gratitude to Rice.
"By far, he is such an inspiration," Angela said of Rice. "He has touched the lives of 249 kids today. We just thank him from the bottom of our hearts. Go Ravens!"