Monday morning, when the teachers at Charlotte’s Polo Ridge Elementary ask their students what they did for the weekend, no one is going to have a better story to tell than 12-year-old Branson Maners.
Friday night, Branson got to spend time in the locker room with his favorite team, the Ardrey Kell High School Knights, and then he led the Knights onto their home field for a big game with Providence.
Ardrey Kell won 41-10, and it won a share of a conference championship.
Along the way, the Knights gave Branson a night he’ll never forget.
“To him, it’s just as great as the NFL,” said Lindsy Maners, Branson’s mom, “and these guys just welcomed him, and for him to be out on that high school field was pretty big time.”
Branson has been a big fan of the Knights ever since he participated in a football clinic the team puts on for youth in the community called “Future Knights” two years ago. The program was canceled in 2020 due to COVID and Ardrey Kell wasn’t able to pull it off in the current shortened spring season.
But Knights coach Greg Jachym said a few of the team parents, who knew about Branson, reached out to his mom, inviting Branson to a special send off for the team before a game at Asheville’s AC Reynolds High School two weeks ago.
“We gave him some gear, and our players really enjoyed being around him,” Jachym said, “and we invited him back.”
Before Branson got to the gym Friday, Jachym told his players what was happening.
“I told them he’s our No. 1 fan,” Jachym said.
And from the moment Branson walked in, smile running ear-to-ear, Jachym said everybody had a good time. Branson even got some eye black under his eyes, the way a lot of players do.
“The players were giving him high-fives and hugs and taking pictures with him,” Jachym said. “I don’t know if they were more excited, or he was.”
Branson got to walk out with the team, from the gym to the field, and then he took his seat in the bleachers.
“He yelled at the team for three quarters,” Lindsy Maners said. “By the fourth quarter, he was worn out. But he was beaming and felt like it was absolutely amazing. There was this mutual joy between him and the team, which was really cool....It was kind of ironic he wore No. 12, because he was really the 12th man for that encouragement.”
Maners said it was a night she’ll never forget.
“I can’t say enough about the amazing-ness of the Ardrey Kell football family,” she said. “We have no personal ties, and they’ve given us this opportunity and embraced Brandon. These are super guys and coach has gone above and beyond, and it’s been pretty amazing, and really great to be part of that community.”
And when Brandon retells the story at school, he’ll make sure to talk about his favorite part.
“I liked (running through tunnel) the best,” he said. “I will tell my friends I was rocking it.”