ELWOOD, Ind. — Not every homecoming queen gets an escort onto the field by a pair of Indianapolis Colts.
But few girls have fought through as much to deserve it as Elwood's Maddi Helpling.
The 2012 homecoming queen received a shock Friday night as she entered the field at halftime of the Panthers' game against Eastbrook. Her surprise escorts as she crowned 2013 queen Grace Arbuckle were Colts long snapper Matt Overton and punter Pat McAfee.
The idea was hatched by Overton, who has made comforting ailing youth his mission since coming to Indianapolis last year. His first contact with Helpling came through a story she shared on Twitter, and he followed up with a visit to her room at Peyton Manning Children's hospital.
The former Elwood volleyball and tennis player is battling high grade Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that requires 29 months of chemotherapy Helpling hopes to complete in March. In the meantime, she's studying to become a nurse practitioner at IUPUI.
Her treatment prevents Helpling from a carrying a full schedule for now, but she plans to take a full-time class load next fall. When Overton heard her story, he hatched a plan with her grandma.
"She's a great girl, very inspiring to all of us," Overton said. "I had known that her homecoming was coming up and that she was crowning the new homecoming queen here at Elwood. And I thought it would be perfect for Pat and I to come out here and surprise her."
Helpling previously met with the players on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium before the regular-season opener against the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 8. But she had no idea a reunion was coming Friday night.
"Mamaw kept it a secret," Helpling said. "She's good at that."