Young athlete ‘hangs’ with president

Published 9:05 am Friday, October 21, 2011

Southampton Academy junior varsity football player Mina Johnson holds up a photocopy of the note she was given by President Barack Obama that excused her from missing football practice to attend his event in Emporia Tuesday night. -- Dale Liesch | Tidewater News

COURTLAND—As excuses go, Southampton Academy student and junior varsity football player Mina Johnson had a good one.

This is a photo of the hand-written note that President Barack Obama wrote to excuse Southampton Academy football player Mina Johnson from practice Tuesday. -- Dale Liesch | Tidewater News

The eighth-grader, who grabbed national headlines when a North Carolina school refused to play SA in football if she played, missed football practice Tuesday because she had been personally invited by the White House to attend President Barack Obama’s speech at Greensville County High School in Emporia.

To top it off, Mina got to meet Obama backstage beforehand, and the commander-in-chief wrote a personal note to Mina’s coach, excusing her from practice that day.

“I hate that she missed practice, but I guess she had a pretty good reason,” said SA junior varsity football Coach Brian Parker.

The note read, “Dear coach: Please excuse Mina…She was hanging out with me!” Obama handwrote the note and signed it.

“He asked me about football and my grades,” Mina said of her chat with the president.

Mina said she plans to frame the note and a photograph of her with the president.

“It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she said.

Mina’s mother, Mona; older brother, Greg; younger sister, Selena; and grandmother Ellen Belton accompanied Mina to Emporia.

“It was an amazing night for all of us,” she said.

Drewryville native and current Emporia resident Kimie Thrower, wife of Emporia City Manager Brian Thrower, poses with president Barack Obama after he spoke at Greensville County High School in Emporia. -- SUBMITTED

Mina wasn’t the only Western Tidewater person to rub elbows with Obama Tuesday night. Drewryville native and Emporia resident Kimie Thrower also snapped a photo with the president.

Thrower, the wife of Emporia City Manager Brian Thrower, did not think she was going to be able to go as city staffers were given a limited number of tickets, but when two Emporia representatives were not able to go, she got her chance.

“The experience — whether you agree with him or not — it’s an exciting experience regardless,” Thrower said.

Thrower managed to stop Obama long enough while he was shaking hands in the crowd to have her pictured snapped with him. The Los Angeles Times also interviewed her.

“I was pretty excited,” Thrower said.

Thrower said her mother, Drewryville native Brenda Thomas, was “extremely thrilled for me.”

“She was starting to post pictures on Facebook before I could.”

In addition to his motorcade passing through Southampton County, the president’s helicopter was parked and ready to go at Franklin’s airport in case of an emergency, said Airport Manager Jimmy Gray. It turns out that it wasn’t needed.

“The helicopter went from airport to airport along his route,” Gray said.

He said the helicopter crew even purchased fuel at the airport.

“It was pretty neat to see it,” Gray said.