Though it wasn't homecoming week, a very special reunion took place before the Helena Huskies' big game on Monday, October 18 in Helena, Alabama. The heart-warming moment took place when unsuspecting freshman defensive back Fred Grooms III saw his dad, Army Major Fred Grooms Sr., for the first time in over a year while participating in the pre-game coin toss. If you're like us and are absolute suckers for a good military homecoming surprise (or two!), keep reading.
In the viral video shared by Helena High School football, Grooms Jr. walks to midfield to shake hands with the other team, while his father Grooms Sr. stands behind the other team's captains wearing a full referee's uniform and face mask. As Grooms Jr. reaches over to shake his opponents' hands, the head referee instructs the players to look directly into the eyes of each member of the officiating crew.
"We need to tell these guys how we need to get them to act right," he says. "Make sure you get all of these officials' faces down. Know them good."
Grooms Jr. turns to his left and makes eye contact with two referees before landing on his father. Giddy with anticipation, Grooms Sr. waits a beat then takes his mask off and bursts into laughter, finally revealing his identity to his bewildered son. The father and son briefly grasp hands and then bring it in for a huge hug, where they remain for the next 20 seconds.
The other players and refs lead the crowd, many of whom are in on the secret, into a round of applause for the reunited duo.
Grooms Sr. shared how he pulled off the priceless moment with local newspaper the Grooms Sr., a member of the U.S. Army for more than 30 years, had been stationed in Kuwait for the last year. He was scheduled to come home at the end of October but knew his son's final football game of the season would come and go before he returned.
"I told my commander in Kuwait, and they were in agreement and said I could leave two weeks early," Grooms Sr. said.
With a homecoming date in the books, Grooms Sr. turned to his wife Garnet, as well as Helena's head football coach to execute the surprise. The biggest obstacle he faced was getting by his son and daughter the night before. His flight got in at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, and the game wasn't until the following evening.
"He was so anxious. I thought he was going to blow his cover," Garnet said. "It got really challenging the next morning because we had to make sure he used the bathroom before I left so they wouldn't get suspicious of the toilet flushing after I left."
Once both kids left for school, all that was left was for Grooms Sr. to wait—something that became increasingly more difficult as the day went on. As game time approached, his emotions were at an all-time high.
"I will tell you I didn't keep my composure," Grooms Sr. said. "We hadn't seen each other in a year. That's the longest we've been away from each other since he was 5 or 6."
When the long-anticipated embrace finally took place, Grooms Sr. said the feeling was "overwhelming". "My son isn't an outwardly emotional type. He's the one who won't hug you, kiss you. So for him to hug me as tight as he did … was really something special."