Keila Penner's love for her hockey team may have incurred stiff penalties from school officials, but it also helped her score some red carpet treatment from her heroes and lasting respect from her peers.
The 12-year-old Montreal-area student briefly became the poster child for Ottawa Senators fans back in May when she opted to be sent home from class rather than remove the team jersey she was wearing during the 2013 playoff season.
Officials at Maple Grove Elementary School had urged students to sport team jerseys during the series between the Sens and the Montreal Canadiens, but hadn't counted on students backing anyone but the Habs.
When Penner showed up decked out in the colours of the team she's supported all her life, officials ordered her to either change her clothing or leave the premises. For the young hockey fan, those words were nothing less than instigation.
"I told them, 'Look, I'm not taking off my jersey, and if you want me to take it off, call my dad,'" the Grade 6 student recalled in a telephone interview from Montreal.
Penner headed home with parental consent, and it wasn't long before the tempest had swirled well beyond the school teapot.
Even though she was admitted back to class the next day, her stepmother's facebook posts on the incident soon garnered attention from local and national media.
Within a week, the story had reached the Ottawa Senators' front office. That's when Penner went from schoolyard celebrity to bona fide VIP.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk got wind of her devotion to the team and invited her to take in a playoff game from his personal suite at the Sens' home arena.
A limousine was dispatched to ferry Penner and her entire family from their home in Dorval, Que., to and from the game, giving the youngster the chance to feel like both a rebel with a cause and a star.
"There was a whole bunch of people ahead of me with cameras, and a whole bunch of fans. And the whole way that I was going there I had to talk to different radio stations, plenty of stuff like that," Penner said of her trip to the game. "It was really fun."
The fun continued upon her arrival at the match, where she was presented with a new Sens jersey—this one autographed by the entire team.
She also had the pleasure of watching her team edge the Habs out 3-2 in a thrilling overtime win.
Back at school, Penner's stock rose with classmates who respected her for sticking up for her team.
Penner said her fellow students had taken more tolerant views than the teachers who devised the rules for school attire, recognizing that a person's team allegiance doesn't define their character.
"They were cheering out for me and they were happy that I actually stood up for myself," she said."They were perfectly fine supporting my team, and they said that if I wanted to support the Ottawa Senators and they wanted to support the Canadiens, they're still my friends."
The experience has left Penner as feisty as ever when it comes to team garb.
Her school has cancelled jersey-wearing days since the controversy, but Penner said she knows exactly what she'll do if officials resurrect the practice.
The autographed jersey she was given will never grace her school's hallways, since it's currently hanging on a wall in her bedroom, but her old one will continue to be a badge of honour.
"I'm going to wear my jersey," she said. "I'm standing up for my team, and if they don't like it, that's too bad for them."
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