The scene looks like this. It’s a drizzly, gray, late-winter Friday at Wright’s Mill Elementary School and the fourth-graders are barely able to contain their excitement in anticipation of a sunny weekend. Add to that: it is also Poetry and Pizza Day. This means not only will the children have a break in their usual routine, but parents and other loved ones will be joining them in class for a special treat, actual take-out pizza and real cola. The kids are positively bursting at the seams and it’s all the teachers can do to quiet the jittery chatter and rustling long enough for poetry to be read for the visitors.
Several of the fourth-graders chose to recite poems they wrote about grandparents or school. A handful of kids wrote about pets. And several of the kids on the right side of the room chose to write about penguins. The last of the penguin poem readers is brave enough to work the word “mating” into his rhyme scheme, which produces giggles and high-fives from several classmates and nervous laughter from a few of the parents.
But as the last student finishes her poem–an acrostic about her pet dog–and parents begin to put away their smart-phone video recorders, the door to the classroom cracks open slightly. Heads turn toward the noise just as a large, lean-fingered hand appears and the door swings wide open to reveal an unexpected visitor. It’s Cam Newton.
Like the first ray of sun breaking through a storm cloud, Newton needs no introduction. He simply smiles wide and asks, “Is everyone in here doing the ‘Wright’ thing?” (a play on the school’s name and their motto) and the class goes berserk. For several minutes, Newton calmly and warmly receives the rushing sea of waist-high tackles, squealing hugs, and excited handshakes. Newton may indeed be a celebrity but he takes all of this in with the easy gracefulness people have come to expect from the former Auburn quarterback.
The fourth-graders at Wright’s Mill Road Elementary did not suspect that Cam Newton would be paying them a visit today. Why would they? After a successful season culminating in a National Championship win and the Heisman Trophy, Newton’s path led him away from Auburn and into a pro football career with the Carolina Panthers. Nevertheless, Newton remains a part of the Auburn family. And at Wright’s Mill Road Elementary, he remains a role model and a mentor. Newton’s dedication and perseverance surely contribute to his success on the field but they are just as evident off the field. Just ask the Wright’s Mill Road Elementary fourth-graders who woke up this morning thinking today was just Poetry and Pizza Day.
Newton’s relationship with Wright’s Mill Road Elementary School began in the fall of 2010 when he began participating in the school’s mentor program on a regular basis. While Newton’s focus was specifically on providing academic and behavioral encouragement for four fifth-grade boys, his presence and time at Wright’s Mill affected many more children.