Photo Courtesy of Irish Mahan
Second-grader Eli Mahan runs onto the field, uniform on, ready to play flag football, knowing he has a special fan watching him. In the stands is varsity football quarterback senior Jackson Berry, who is not only there to support Mahan at the beginning, middle and end of his games, but also for advice and encouragement.
Every football season, the football Flight Crew team works to become a part of their community by creating a special bond with a student in first through fifth grade. At the beginning of their season, football players volunteer to mentor an elementary school student in the district. Each Flight Crew pair exchanges letters, attends each other’s sports games, and the athletes become role models for their “buddies.”
“My son’s name is Eli Mahan, and his Flight Crew buddy has been Jackson Berry for the last two years,” government teacher Irish Mahan said. “This is an incredible program, and it truly connects the community to our school and our football team.”
Along with their athlete supporting them, the children in Flight Crew also offer support to their athlete, attending their player’s games and often wearing shirts or holding signs to represent their “buddy.”
“Eli insists on wearing his Berry No. 5 t-shirt every Friday night,” Mahan said. “Jackson (Berry) has written to Eli every single week of his football season, offering encouragement and advice. Jackson has attended Eli’s football games, and Jackson has also supported Eli during basketball and baseball seasons, taking time out of his schedule to watch Eli compete.”
However, due to COVID-19 precautions, the Flight Crew team this football season is limited to 100 participants. Other safety measures were taken this year as well, such as the elementary students are no longer allowed to run onto the football field, and the mentors are not permitted to visit the elementary schools for a shared lunch.
“My son loves being a part of this program, although he is very sad he doesn’t get to run onto the field this year,” Mahan said. “Berry has also made time to go eat lunch with him at school (last year when that was allowed).”
Despite the regular COVID-19 precautions, sophomore junior varsity football player Jaylen Lacy said he still believes that being a part of Flight Crew has been perfect for him.
“Flight Crew was perfect for me because I enjoy being the person that younger kids can look up to and come to if they are going through anything in life. Having a Flight Crew buddy really is like having another family member. My Flight Crew buddy is a girl named Paige,” Lacy said. “Paige is in fifth grade and she always has a big smile on her face. She goes to almost all of my home games, and it feels good to look up in the stands and see her cheering me on. I would say that she motivates me to be a better player and do my job.”
Other football players, such as sophomore junior varsity player Evan Bish, feel the same way as Lacy.
“I think Flight Crew is a really inspiring program, especially for younger kids because it is a way for younger kids to not only become a better player, but a better member of the community,” Bish said. “It’s building the Prosper football community and giving a real family experience to be a part of something. Being a role model and knowing there is someone looking up to you is inspiring. It holds us accountable for our actions on the field and off.”
Although the Flight Crew program was designed to give younger children a role model, Flight Crew athletes have said that the program has helped them in return, as well.
“Having a younger kid looking up to me makes me feel prideful in myself,” senior and varsity football player Alex Stowers said. “It makes me want to work harder and do things right, to show younger kids what it means to be a Prosper football player.”
Many parents of young children who have a Prosper Flight Crew buddy have also called their child’s athlete “an incredible role model.”
“The PHS boys were so interactive,” Tana Webb said on Prosper’s football page. “I was impressed with how respectful and engaging they were. Fist bump to the players, coaches and families raising such fine young men!”
Senior varsity player James Duvall said that Flight Crew has not made him a better athlete physically, but mentally.
“My favorite part is seeing how excited they (his Flight Crew buddy) get or me knowing they enjoy getting my letters, and them supporting me at our games,” Duvall said. “It’s made me a better athlete not physically but mentally, knowing I’m helping out someone or making their day means a lot to me. It means a lot when I know that I’m looked up to, and it shows that I need to step up as a role model.”
As Flight Crew continues to engage elementary school students, Mahan said that being a part of Flight Crew has brought her son so much joy.
“My son loves that he knows someone on the PHS football team, and he is so excited to support Jackson (Berry),” Mahan said. “Eli also feels so special when Jackson supports him. Having young men in our community serve as role models is incredible, and my family is thankful for this program and the joy it has brought to our son.”