Should the Carolina Panthers find themselves in need of a new press agent anytime soon, they could do a whole lot worse than Julio Aragon.
“The Panthers are the best team in the world,” says the third-grader at Sedgefield Elementary School in Charlotte. “They’re too good for the other players, too good for the other teams. No one can beat them. They’re unstoppable, they’re fearless and they’re good at football.”
There’s relish all over this proclamation. It’s almost as if someone stuck a microphone in his hand and plopped him into a seat at the ringside announcers’ table at WrestleMania.
But this can happen when you give a kid a principal-approved opportunity to miss class just so they can wax philosophic to a reporter about the Super Bowl-bound Panthers – the hottest topic in Charlotte not just around office water coolers and in sports bars, but also at bus stops and in school lunchrooms.
Kids simply do not, ever, mince words.
Ask a kid who his favorite player on the Panthers is, and you get this: “Thomas Davis, because his last name is my first name,” says Davis Lee, a third-grader at McKee Road Elementary School in south Charlotte.
Ask a kid who once met star quarterback Cam Newton what it was like to actually meet his hero, this: “When I first saw him, he was, like, huge. Like, tall tall. Like, the tallest person I ever seen,” says Mac McManus, a fifth-grader at Newell Elementary School in north Charlotte.
And if you ask a kid what message she’d want to give to the Panthers as they head to California for Super Bowl 50, this: “I would tell them that if you don’t feel confident, you need to. Because if you don’t, you might not win. But if you do, you will win,” says Jasmine Olivia-Villatoro, a Newell first-grader.
Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” Obviously this kind of stuff plays better when you can see it.
But just imagine McKee Road kindergartner Elise Ficker – too bashful to string more than about six or seven words together at a time – busting out of her shell to pretend to open her white long-sleeved Panthers tee shirt as if to reveal an “S,” a spot-on impersonation of Cam Newton’s Superman celebration.
Or picture McKee Road fifth-grader Luke Bailey blurt out “Panthers” before I can even finish asking, “Who do you think is going to win the Super Bowl?” And then “28-17” before I even get to the end of, “What do you think the final score is going to be?”
Or try to envision the childlike (Cam Newton-like?) grin on Newell second-grader Dane Howard’s face when he says: “My teacher she said that we could dab when we get a victory.” A victory? “Yeah. She lets us dab when we get a question right or something.”
Which brings up a good point. Teachers definitely deserve some credit for spreading Panthers fever, too.
At Sedgefield, art teacher Victoria Watkins had one of her classes paint the school rock black and put a Panther face on it last month “because, well then, what else is there to put on the rock right now?” she said.
At Newell, teachers are building lessons about character education around star quarterback Cam Newton and his team. “Everything has been Cam Newton when it comes to talk about team players, team-building, what it’s like to show perseverance, what it’s like to show grit, to be successful but still remain humble in their being,” said assistant principal Semeika Stewart.
And at McKee Road, physical education teacher Doug Smith has been leading kids through Panther-themed morning exercises via closed-circuit TV “every Monday, when the Panthers win ... so we’ve been doing a lot of them this year,” he said.
We could go on like this all day, and if I’d been able to get around to more Charlotte schools on Wednesday, I probably would. But I’ll leave you with these.
Montario Davis, fifth-grader at Sedgefield, whose favorite player is Newton: “I like that every time he scores a touchdown, it doesn’t matter what they say, he never puts a roof on his feelings.”
Sedgefield fourth-grader Kamiya Wright, whose favorite is Greg Olsen “because, first, his foundation helps people with their heart disease, and that even when he misses catches as he plays, he still perseveres to get the catches.”
As for the Panthers’ foe in Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos? “Well,” says Julio Aragon, the perhaps-slightly-hyperbole-prone boy who kicked off this column, “what I would say to them is: ‘Prepare to lose.’ ”