When Joey Goldsmith turned around after a set of squats, pain fled his body and mind.
On Wednesday morning during a weights session at Parsons High School, when Goldsmith turned around, he saw the face of his father, Andrew Larson. It was the first time the two had seen each other since Larson went on a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan with the Army Reserve.
Larson, who took over as Goldsmith’s spotter during his final squat reps, surprised his son in a homecoming moment for the ages.
“I was so surprised that I didn’t even feel the soreness in my body,” Goldsmith said. “I had some mixed emotions. I told them to never do that to me, but I was so happy to see him. I wasn’t supposed to see him for another two weeks. I was just so happy.”
“I expected the reaction to be just like that,” Larson added. “We like to play pranks on each other, so I know I got him good.”
The homecoming surprise for Goldsmith had been in the works for weeks. Parsons Vikings football coach Jeff Schibi first hatched the idea during a conversation with Goldsmith’s mother, Renee Larson.
“I spoke with Joey’s mom about three weeks ago about fundraising ideas for the football program,” Schibi said. “Towards the end of the conversation, she mentioned that Joey’s dad was going to be coming back to the states. I remember his deployment was really tough on Joey, so I was very excited about that.”
From there, Schibi kept in touch with Andrew Larson to set up a final date.
“I’ve been in contact with Joey’s dad for the last few weeks to discuss what we could do,” Schibi said. “When he finally gave me a date of July 1, my first thought was that it was squat day. That’s the perfect lift to surprise somebody from behind.”
Andrew returned to Parsons on Tuesday night and stashed himself away at a hotel to preserve the surprise.
“My plane got delayed again on Monday, so I didn’t know if I would make it,” Andrew Larson said. “Then I just sat in a hotel and waited.”
When Goldsmith started his set of squats, Schibi rallied the athletes.
“Ring the bell for Joey!,” Schibi yelled before ringing a ceremonial bell in the weight room.
With Goldsmith facing the wall, Schibi went into the auxiliary gym at the high school, where the Larsens were waiting, and signaled them in.
Andrew Larson hustled into the weight room and took over for Goldsmith’s spotter. When Goldsmith turned around, he quickly hugged his father as teammates and coaches hollered and cheered.
“It was goosebumps,” Schibi said. “I get chills when I think about that kind of stuff. I know how much his dad means to him. I’ve never had to experience being away from a parent for so long. I’ll forever remember his face and this day being a special day.”
Renee Larson said that Wednesday’s surprise was a gesture for the entire community in addition to her son.
“This helps bring the community together,” Renee Larson said. “That’s the reason I did it, as well as for Joey. This was really hard for Joey. His dad missed his football season last year. Joey had a great year and so it was hard.”
Andrew Larson helped with logistic support for the Army Reserve while serving his 10th deployment. His deployment was extended because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which imposed strict travel restrictions.
Goldsmith, who was named the defensive MVP for Parsons last year, is prepping for his senior campaign.
“I’m just going to try my hardest to do everything I possibly can on the field,” Goldsmith said. “If he was going to start missing my senior year, I would’ve been pretty pissed. So I’m so happy this happened now.”
For Larson, he’ll begin acclimating to American life in a pandemic.
“I haven’t had a chance to experience life here yet except for the air travel,” Larson said. “We were wearing masks in Afghanistan with the close interactions on a base. Here, I’m excited to be outside on grass. I’ll walk around barefoot on the grass and pet my dog. I’m excited.”