For as long as he can remember, James Gale has been a New England Patriots fan.
And this year, he couldn’t be any closer to his team as they take on the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. James, a fifth-grader at Weddington Elementary, was chosen as the NFL Play 60 Super Kid and will present the official football to the referee on the 50-yard line before kickoff at Sunday’s big game.
More than 10,000 fans, ages 6-13, entered the annual nationwide contest, which required entrants to answer essay questions related to health, nutrition and fitness and to pledge to be active for 60 minutes a day. Thirty-three youths won at the local level, receiving prize packs with two tickets to a regular-season game in their market, but James was the sole national winner.
James wrote about his firsthand experience with nutrition. Until he was 5, James lived in a small village in Liberia, West Africa. He recalled the muddy drinking water and huts made of sticks and clay. He was lucky, he said, to eat about one meal a day: rice, beans, fish or chicken. His parents, realizing they couldn’t provide the care he needed, placed James up for adoption.
“When I lived there, it was my mom and my dad and they didn’t have a lot to take care of me, so I went to the village and the village wasn’t so good,” James said. “It didn’t have good water… and we had to walk a long way to get to the water.”
Lisa and Steve Gale of Matthews heard about children in Liberia from missionaries at their church and decided to adopt, Lisa said. When James arrived, “he was the size of a 2-year-old,” she said.
“When I just turned 5, I got adopted and I moved here,” James said. “I started to get good nutrition and I started playing, went to school, I got smarter, I grew up, got older and I just started playing football and it’s been so fun.”
Now 11, James wears a size 10 shoe and is active in football, basketball and baseball. He has also dabbled in soccer and hopes to play lacrosse if his mom will let him, he said, smiling.
“I think James is an awesome kid,” said Lisa. “The quality that I like best about him is his nonphysical quality. He is a very compassionate person. He is a very hard worker, and he is not afraid to face a challenge and learn how to handle it.”
It is James’ hope to one day become a personal trainer, or even a football coach, he said. He has already constructed specific plays he would like to try out with his future team.
In his answers to the Play 60 contest, James said he also wrote about his favorite NFL player: Wes Welker, a Patriots wide receiver.
“I like Wes Welker because if you watch him play, he’s not the biggest person on his team and he is a good receiver because he uses his brain and his body to get around players fast,” James said. “And he has good sportsmanship.”
The Gales spent a brief time in Massachusetts, but recently returned to their home in Matthews. James found out he had won the NFL contest while he was in Cape Cod, when his dad picked him up from school. “I was so excited, but I thought he was joking at first because 10,000 kids enter,” James said.
Because James was chosen as the Super Kid, he was also able to attend the first playoff game, in which the Patriots defeated the Broncos 45-10. There, he had some practice running the football out onto the field at the start of the game.
“I thought I was going to trip,” James laughed.
He recalled entering Gillette Stadium for the first time at the Jan. 14 playoff game. “I had seen it on Madden 12, but it was humongous in real life,” James said. “I got to go through the tunnel and it was just really awesome. And I got to meet Wes Welker and Robert Kraft.”
When James runs the ball to the referee this Sunday, about 63,000 fans will be watching in Lucas Oil Stadium and more than 100 million will view the game from home.
James and his family were scheduled to fly to Indianapolis on Monday and will have the opportunity to participate in events including the NFL Experience theme park and a youth football clinic. After the Super Bowl, James will be featured on Cartoon Network and attend a red carpet event in Los Angeles.
As for staying active, James said, “I’m having fun because there is a lot of fun stuff to do outside, like running, races, bike riding and skateboarding.” He encourages others, too: “Going outside and playing is really fun. If you have friends, go hang with them and do something. Don’t stay inside much.”
Fun fact: As a fifth-grader in Massachusetts, James won his school’s Turkey Trot run with a mile time of 6:50.
Positions played in football: Kicker, running back and linebacker. “My favorite is running back because we get to do all of these trick plays and block.”
Favorite activities to do outside: Go-kart riding, skateboarding and dunking a basketball.
How to stay active: “You should have a time limit on playing video games.”
Go outside: “My mom makes me go outside 60 minutes a day. At first, I was pretty mad, but I’ve gotten over it and I see that it helps me not be weak and be addicted to video games.”
The Super Bowl kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, televised on NBC.
Watch James meeting Patriots team owner Robert Kraft: http://bit.ly/yAbBAA