Friends and teammates of Mason Martin offered their help Sunday, Sept. 17, at a benefit luncheon for the injured football player and his family at the Sugarcreek Township Volunteer Fire Department. From left are Levi Wessinger, Tate Begley, Sean Slaugenhaupt and Cole Johnston. Everyone except Levi are Mason’s classmates. Eddie Trizzino/Butler Eagle 9/17/23

SUGARCREEK TWP, Armstrong County — The Karnes City football team is often together on the weekends for practice, and on Sunday, Sept. 17, many of them were together again, with injured quarterback Mason Martin, there in spirit.

Team members prepared food, waited tables and carried tow baskets at the Sugarcreek Township Volunteer Fire Department, and thousands of people went Sunday to a benefit lunch for Mason and his family.

Mason, Karnes City District Jr./Sr. The high school quarterback collapsed during the third quarter of a home game with the Redbank Valley Bulldogs on Sept. 1 at Diehl Stadium. He was taken from the field by ambulance and then flown by helicopter to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. His family said he suffered a brain injury and a collapsed lung.

According to a Sept. 16 Facebook post by Mason’s parents, Stacy and Denny Martin, every day over the past week has brought a new struggle. On three separate days, workers at UPMC Presbyterian had to rush to his side to save his life when his condition took a turn for the worse.

“He fights like crazy and there is not an ounce of surrender in him,” the post read.

Tate Begley, a senior at Karnes City Area Jr./Sr. The high school senior said he is a close friend of Mason, and helping him and his family during lunch was a good way to honor his friend. Seeing attendees of the lunch event made it even better.

“I’ve never seen the community come together this much, and it’s crazy how many people are here,” Tate said.

Mason’s lunch started at noon at the fire department, and vehicles quickly filled the parking lot, requiring a school bus to transport people to the building from Paradise Park. The line for raffle basket tickets stretched all the way through the parking lot — many people wearing pink and purple T-shirts designed by Mason’s sister — and the line got longer as more people got off buses to get into the event.

Christa Ritzert, cheerleading coach at Karnes City Area Junior/Sr. The lunch included about 1,600 chicken dinners and about 500 raffle baskets for people to bid on, the high school said. The number of people who turned out to support Mason shocked even the lunch organizers.

“We’re in awe right now,” Ritzert said. “We thought there would be a lot but it’s nothing like what we’re looking at now.”

The lunch took the cooperation of many people, including many from the Karnes City School District community.

“We have athletes, coaches, community members, we have some administration officials, family and friends,” Ritzert said.

Ritzert said morale at the school has remained at a good level since Mason was taken to the hospital. She said Mason’s name is constantly spoken of at school, as students keep it in their thoughts.

Shawn Slaugenhaupt, a sophomore at Karnes City Area Jr./Sr. High School, another member of the football team who helped with Sunday lunch.

The situation was improving; “This helps a lot during games and training,” Sean said. “It’s amazing to see people from other counties come out and support Mason.”

Ritzert said she didn’t have an estimate on the total amount the lunch would raise, but she expected it would be a good gift for the Martin family, thanks to the number of people who attended.

Aside from the financial benefit of the lunch, the event also provided an opportunity to provide emotional support to people who knew Mason. Tate said it’s a good time to think about Mason and what he wants his teammates to do in this situation.

“We’re all playing through it. We pray before and after every game for Mason,” Tate said. “He wants us to keep playing.”

Carter Herold, a Center Township Elementary School student, signs the guest book Sunday for Mason Martin at a charity luncheon for him and his family at the Sugarcreek Township Volunteer Fire Department. Eddie Trizzino/Butler Eagle 9/17/23

Jessica Rodgers (from left), Abby Dailey and Taylor Dailey, students in the Karnes City Area School District, helped out with a Mason Martin charity luncheon on Sunday, Sept. 17, at the Sugarcreek Township Volunteer Fire Department. Eddie Trizzino/Butler Eagle 9/17/23

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