Game Changer: Fletcher boy gets chance of a lifetime with the Panthers

Game Changer: Fletcher boy gets chance of a lifetime with the Panthers (Photo credit: Joey Popp, Big Brothers Big Sisters)

Every kid remembers the first time they see a professional field. The light seems to hit it just perfectly, the grass is greener, and the surrounding stadium is awe-inspiring. Most can only dream of stepping under those lights, on that field, in front of that crowd; however, one Fletcher boy got to live that dream. When asked how big of a Panther fan he is, 9-year old Andre Williamson stated, “One hundred thousand percent!” That’s also, coincidentally, the number of other kids he beat out for the honor of “Second Half Kickoff Kid of the Game.”

“We entered his name and by golly we get the phone call and the letter that he's been selected,” explained Joey Popp, Andre’s mentor through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Henderson County. He added they signed Andre up for the Panthers Kids Club over the summer, which allowed the young fan to go watch a pre-season practice.

Andre was treated like a king for the day according to Popp. He got to meet Sir Purr and the Top Cats cheerleaders, spend some time pregame down on the field, and got two free tickets to the game. It all culminated when the Panthers and Packers took the field for the second half kickoff. Once the ball was in the air, Andre ran out to retrieve the tee, even getting time on the stadiums Jumbotron. “I want to hand the tee to Cam Newton,” Andre grinned the week before his big moment. “I might even stand by him if I can!”

While it wasn’t the former MVP, Andre was greeted by back-up quarterback Derek Anderson when he returned to the sideline. He even dabbed in front of the Panther, drawing a laugh. Andre also received an NFL logo pin from one of the officials.

The Panthers motto is “Keep Pounding,” which according to Andre means keep trying your best. He’s done that away from football as well, hitting the books with Popp; he even earned an A on a recent paper. With a lot of hard work and a “Keep Pounding” mentality, Andre Williamson may have another shot to run on the field at an NFL stadium. Just in case, he’s already perfected his touchdown dance. His mentorship with Popp is about more than trips to see the Panthers play, though. “He teaches me something, and hopefully in return I can teach him something,” Popp said. He’s part of Andre’s extended family, which if you ask him is more important than any football opportunity, saying matter-of-factly “It’s the best thing I can ever have.”

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