If it was smiles Bob Thompson sought instead of money, he was not disappointed.
Thompson, president of Statesville-based Victory Air, donated a plane and crew to fly the Rowan County All-Stars Little League Softball World Series-winning team to Washington, D.C., on Friday morning.
In an email Thursday, Thompson said getting the girls and their coaches and other supporters to Washington for a meeting with President Donald Trump was an easy decision.
“The smiles that these kids will have on their faces will undoubtedly make it worthwhile,” he said.
Thompson was not disappointed, as before daylight Friday, the girls and their supporters were all smiles as they waited to board the plane at Statesville Regional Airport.
Although the team is based in Rowan County, several of its players are from Mooresville.
Avrelle Harrell and Cadence Lane were two of the Mooresville-based players who were part of the contingent leaving from Statesville Friday morning.
Harrell called the trip a “once in a lifetime” experience and said she was excited to meet Trump and see the White House. Since the day-long excursion also included a whirlwind tour of Washington, Harrell said she was looking forward to seeing all the sights.
“I’ve never been there, so I’m excited,” she said.
Looking out on a large group of supporters who came to the airport to see the girls and coaches off, Lane said the send-off was special.
Like her teammate Harrell, Lane said she was excited about the trip.
“Just to see the White House is exciting,” she said. “I’ll be with my team and get to see the President.”
The Rowan County All-Stars won the World Series in August, and U.S. Rep. Ted Budd arranged an invitation to the White House.
Getting the team to Washington was the next hurdle. The playoff run for the All-Stars was an expensive proposition for many of the parents and arranging transportation to Washington seemed out of reach.
That’s when Thompson stepped in.
“Several of the parents are involved with NASCAR and knew us and inquired if we might help,” he said in an emailed statement Thursday. “The fact that most of the parents of these athletes were about tapped out financially just getting through the playoffs, we saw our opportunity to help out and provide them with a free trip to D.C. as a group and bring them home the same day to again save them some money.”
Charles Eller, a pilot for Victory Air, was chosen to fly the team to Washington.
He said he was originally scheduled to fly NASCAR teams to Talladega for the weekend race but got a message that he was headed to DC instead. “I thought why I am going to D.C.,” he said. But upon finding out the purpose of the flight, Eller said he was thrilled.
Airport manager John Ferguson said he wasn’t surprised by Thompson’s offer. “That’s just the kind of corporate citizen they are. We are fortunate to have them in our community,” he said in an email.
The flight landed in D.C. less than an hour after takeoff and was scheduled to return Friday night around 10:30.