Figure skater Jason Brown's enthusiasm that connected with spectators at the Sochi Winter Olympics was evident Tuesday when he stopped in his hometown of Highland Park for a celebration of his achievements.
Brown, who won a bronze medal with the U.S. in the team competition and placed ninth in the individual side of his Olympics debut, attended two pep assemblies before a combined 2,000 students at Highland Park High School.
He was touched when Highland Park High's Marching Giants band played the school fight song at the start of both assemblies, followed by the national anthem. Brown also made himself available to teens who wanted a photo with an Olympic medal winner.
Mayor Nancy Rotering chipped in by presenting Brown with a key to Highland Park in recognition of his achievements. She hopes to host a broader celebration for the ponytailed Brown when his schedule allows.
All of the local backing did not go unnoticed by Brown while he was in Sochi.
"Your support," the 2013 Highland Park High graduate told the students, "and the support of the town and the community means more than you guys know and more than I'm able to express to you all. And I can't thank you enough."
Brown's visit home was brief because he's scheduled to depart today for training at U.S. Figure Skating's complex in Colorado Springs, Colo. He is a first alternate for the World Figure Skating Championships that run March 24-30 in Saitama, Japan.
"I'm going to be training for those three weeks until they leave for Worlds and I know that I'm not needed," Brown, 19, said in a brief interview after the second assembly.
Among those in Highland Park High's theater Tuesday to cheer Brown were seniors Sara Harris and Spencer Simon. Both are figure skaters and longtime friends of Brown's.
Simon and Harris said they were excited to see someone they know and have skated with wearing a bronze medal from the Olympics.
"I feel like it is all of our dream come true to see this happen," said Harris. "We've grown up with him. We've known he's always been incredibly special and talented. And to see him accomplish everything that we've seen him work for -- like on the ice every morning, every day at the rink -- it's amazing."
Brown drew praise from NBC Sports figure skating analyst Scott Hamilton and others for his on-ice enthusiasm in the Olympics. Getting there, however, wasn't easy.
Perhaps because he was nervous, tired or mentally unfocused, Brown said he participated in events he was favored to win but fell short. Brown said he and coach Kori Ade used his lack of success as opportunities to study what went wrong and why didn't perform at his best.
He said he probably would have laughed if someone had suggested a year ago that he'd be in the Winter Olympics.
"But goals that you might think are unachievable and unreachable are actually attainable through hard work and dedication," Brown said.