Carolina Panthers players surprise Kannapolis students with shopping spree

More than two dozen students from Kannapolis Intermediate School knew they were going to get to spend $100 at Academy Sports and Outdoors on Dec. 9, but they didn’t know they’d be going on the shopping spree with Carolina Panthers players.

When the students learned their shopping partners would include Panthers players Jerricho Cotchery, Brian Folkerts, Graham Gano and Garry Williams, some screamed and jumped with excitement while others’ mouths draped open in disbelief.

Panthers players and members of the Women of the Panthers community helped students shop. Participating students were selected by the United Way of Central Carolinas and Kannapolis City Schools.

Cathleen Woerner, media specialist with Kannapolis Middle School, helped document the event. She credits the partnership with making the students’ day and their December and, possibly, their lives.

“I’ve seen extreme joy, shock and students just caring for one another,” she said. “I think it’s hard for them to imagine $100 and what that means for them. They don’t get a chance to do something like this ever…. Some of them never even get to leave the Kannapolis area. So, when they learned that they’d be doing this earlier this morning, their faces got all bright and they just jumped for joy.”

Caleb Auberry, 10, shopped with offensive tackle Garry Williams. He became overwhelmed by all the choices.

“There’s so much to get,” he said. “I can’t believe it.”

Williams jumped at the chance to be involved, he said.

“To see the kids smile, it brings joy to you,” Williams said. “I got (a kid) here that’s making sure he saves every dime before he spends it all and the other doesn’t know what to get, but it’s a great time to see how excited they are. … It just brings a big, old smile to my face.”

Williams’ Christmas tradition involves watching “A Christmas Story” all day and night, he said. His favorite Christmas memory came at age 9, when he got a pool table.

“This year, I have my kids – they’re 5, 3, 8 months. And I got one on the way – and just to see them on Christmas morning, ripping open their presents is just a joyful thing and I love it.”

Davidson resident Josh Kinchen, 20, is an Academy Sport employee who helped the kids shop.

“One kid saw a pair a shoes he liked and said, ‘My mom always wanted me to have some neutral-colored shoes because the ones I wear are too wild,’” Kinchen said. “When he found them he said, ‘These are perfect because they just got a little bit of lime in them.’”

Another student confessed to Kinchen that “he was trying to get his life together.”

“He said he was a little bad, but was good now,” Kinchen said. “I asked him what sport he liked and he said football, so I said, ‘Let’s check out these jerseys because you might wear one like these guys some day.’ He said, ‘I want to.’ And I said, ‘There’s your goal right there.’”

Sarah Porter serves as the Cabarrus Community Director for the United Way of Central Carolinas. Her favorite part was when the players ran through a line of Academy employees who shook pom-poms and cheered.

“To see the looks on those kids’ faces, they were just having a great time and that’s what this is all about,” Porter said. “Today, 25 kiddos in Kannapolis Intermediate Schools have had the experience of a lifetime, one we hope they will take with them for many years to come and, hopefully, they’ll take from this an opportunity to give back to others.”

Damien Doolittle did exactly that with his $100 gift card. He bought five items: a remote-controlled helicopter for himself, an Olaf backpack (from the film “Frozen”) for his sister, a toy gun for one brother, a Nerf football for his other brother and a sweater for his mom.

“I didn’t want to be stingy,” he said. “I wanted to share because this is one of the best days I’ve ever had.”