Jardaisa Little walked into the Thomson Elementary School lunchroom Friday as a stranger. It was her first day at the school, her first walk out of the front office, her first face-to-face contact with the other students in Ms. Catching's class.
And she wasn't happy.
Her bottom lip was poked out as she sat with her back to her new classmates.
This looks like a job for Mirror Man.
After a short name game with Jardaisa, MaKayla, Michael, Hannah and Charleshia, the first-grader was smiling, even talking with some of her new friends. She never did eat any food, but that was OK -- I put away a couple of tater tots for her.
She slapped me a high-five as she walked down the hall and I promised I'd stop and check on her again later. And I will.
But Mirror Man wasn't the one that deserved the credit that day. There were many others at TES and Maxwell Elementary School who should get a big pat on the back.
Football players, softball players and varsity cheerleaders from Thomson High School took time out of their school day to sit with the elementary school students during lunch, tie their shoes at recess and play Red Light, Green Light in the school yard.
But their message was much more serious, best summed up by senior Mario Windley.
"Everything these teachers tell y'all, y'all better write it down, because they are telling you the right thing," he said, surrounded by pint-sized football fans munching on hamburgers and tater tots.
He turned to the young man in front of him and said succinctly: "You want to play high school football? Then you need to stay in school. You can't play high school football if you aren't in high school."
The trip was the second for the athletes. A week earlier they'd made the trek to Dearing Elementary. And the effect of the visit wasn't lost on administrators.
"It's a good experience for both groups of kids," said TES Principal Donald Davis. "It's a good thing for our kids to understand that there is another level above Thomson Elementary."
Kenterrio Woods spent much of lunch talking to sophomore offensive lineman Kenan Levesque.
"We were just talking about sports," Kenterrio said.
But that talk was about more than sports. It was about a second grader talking to a local gridiron hero, someone who has been in second grade and understands the challenges that are coming. And it was about Kenterrio knowing that there's someone walking around Thomson High School who's thinking about him and how he's doing in school.
Jardaisa should have a similar feeling. I don't put the pads on for my glory on Friday nights, but I'm proud that I was able to make a scared little girl smile.
And that was worth more to me than anything.