Cheerleaders, teachers, and assistant principals draped in Hawaiian leis waited in the Purple Pit packed with Hayden Smallwood’s fellow sophomores and football team members on Friday morning.
The assembled audience thought they were having a Hawaiian-themed Class of 2016 meeting. When Hayden’s family walked in with a Make-a-Wish Foundation employee, however, it was clear something more was going on.
Hayden, who has been battling cancer and was given the medical all-clear, was referred to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. His wish was a trip to Hawaii, and it was granted as a surprise in front of all of his friends, classmates, and teammates.
“Hayden was referred, and we got all of his wish information,” Make-a-Wish employee Lauren Whitson said. “That’s where the fun began. We asked ourselves how we could make the reveal as big as possible.”
Whitson had told Hayden his Hawaiian wish was unlikely to come true the week before, but, as she gladly admitted at the assembly, this was a lie.
“It was really shocking and really awesome,” Hayden Smallwood said. “I had no clue this was happening. It was a normal day. I got up. I went to school. They totally pulled a fast one on me.”
That morning, Hayden, still unaware of what was about to take place, was escorted to the gym by a few administrators.
“I heard on the walkie-talkie in the nurse’s station that everybody was looking for someone,” he said. “They weren’t saying my name, but they were like, ‘We can’t find him. Do you know where he is?’ I was just thinking, ‘I wonder who that is?'”
It wasn’t until he saw his family walk into the gym that he fully realized what was happening.
“I went into the gym and sat down by the football team, and then out of nowhere I see my family,” Hayden said. “They totally got me. I had no idea. A lot of people knew about it, and no one told, for which I’m glad.”
David Ashcraft, Hayden’s ROTC sergeant, lead planning of the event.
“I got a call about six weeks ago saying Hayden had been submitted for Make-a-Wish,” Ashcraft said. “I asked staff, band, ROTC cadets, and many more [people at Denton High] to help in complete secrecy. If it hadn’t been for the team effort, it wouldn’t have been such a success.”
Ashcraft said making Hayden believe his Hawaiian wish wasn’t financially feasible was essential to the plan. His mother and father, who knew the truth all along, both spoke at the event and were overcome by emotion.
“I want to thank each and every one of you,” Hayden’s father Bryan said. “You’ve done good for my boy.”
Hayden will be taking his father, mother, and sister Hailey, a junior at DHS, with him on his summer trip.
“I’m very grateful,” Hayden said. “It means a lot that so many people care. It’s good to know I’m not alone.”