Game in a Topeka classroom turned to surprise when Army mom returns home


A fun game in a McEachron Elementary School second-grade classroom led to the surprise of her life for one of the students.

"Heads Up, Seven Up" is a game where seven students move around the classroom while their classmates rest their heads on their desks, each with a thumb in the air. Each of the seven students nudges down one thumb. After they finish, the seven shout, "Heads up, seven up!"

Students then guess who touched their thumb.

One girl couldn't have guessed what she would see after lifting her head.

'It was exactly what I was hoping for'


U.S. Army SFC Sarah Cowell returned to the Capital City almost a year after being deployed to Guantanamo Bay in late November 2021. She was eager to surprise her daughter Madeline Frantzen.

As students rested their heads — and hid their eyes — for the game, Cowell slipped into the classroom. She nudged 7-year-old Madeline's thumb down. As students shouted "Heads up, seven up!" Madeline lifted her head to see her mother standing there.

That was the true prize of the game.

"It was exactly what I was hoping for," Cowell said. "We just stared at each other. It felt like a while and then we synced right away.



Madeline was thrilled.

"It felt really exciting, and I felt really surprised," said Madeline. "I was amazed."

Cowell said she's ready to get back to being an in-person mom to her daughter.

While Cowell was almost 1,800 miles away, Madeline was in the care of her father, Avery Frantzen, who shot video of the mother-daughter reunion.

"It was cool to have them both here," said McEachron Elementary School principal Victor Williams.

Students understand sacrifices those in the military are making

Avery Frantzen had been deployed before. Williams said he couldn't imagine knowing the parents had to "switch places."

"Our kids remember our Veterans Day program last year and know the sacrifices parents are making for sure," Williams said. "I'm emotional right now. I can't imagine what that'd be like. They're great parents."

Keishera Lately is a business reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. She can be reached at [email protected]



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