Cheers and applause broke out at St. Joseph Cathedral School Tuesday morning when students learned they had won U.S. Cellular's Calling All Communities Campaign.
The $25,000 prize will be used for items the students can use in their classrooms, Principal Spencer Allen promised.
It's the third time a mid-Missouri parochial school has won. St. Francis Xavier Parish School and Immaculate Conception School previously earned $100,000 and $50,000 in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
The annual nationwide campaign awards $25,000 prizes to the 20 schools that gather the most online votes. Leaders at each school are allowed to spend the money to benefit students' education in any way they'd like.
Students filed into the gym not knowing if they'd won or lost.
After viewing a video clip that counted down the top 20 schools, they broke into misplaced applause when they saw "Immaculate Conception St. Joseph School" - located in Gilbertville, Iowa - had won. But the room exploded when "St. Joseph Cathedral School Jefferson City, Missouri" appeared on the screen and they realized their mistake.
Although St. Joseph started strong early in the campaign, Allen's worries mounted when he saw his school slipping from sixth place to 19th place.
"I was lowering my expectations," he said.
Because supporters can't vote more than once, he and other school leaders wracked their brains thinking of new people they could ask for help. "The real challenge was figuring out who we had not spammed yet," he said.
Last weekend he didn't know if his team had won or not. He received the good news on Monday.
Eighth-grader Claire Kehoe was one of the many thrilled students.
"I know my parents and a lot of my family voted," she said. "I think it's amazing we got so lucky. It's a good thing and it's going to a good cause."
Dennis Daniels, the retail area sales manager for U.S. Cellular, attended Tuesday's assembly.
"Did you notice you're the only school in the state to win?" he asked the packed gymnasium. "Doesn't that make you state champions today?"
Daniels noted more than 37,000 people from across the nation voted in the contest. "And St. Joseph Cathedral School got it done!" he added.
He noted in the five years that U.S. Cellular has hosted the contest, the company has given out $4.5 million to 76 winning schools.
Jacob Neeley, the manager of the Jefferson City store, said his team was thrilled to have a hometown winner.
"We do this because we believe in the community and one of the best places to show that belief is by investing in education," Neeley said.