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SMS student attended Panthers game; now headed to Super Bowl – News – The Daily News

The year 2018 will now be more than just the year of Hurricane Florence’s destruction for a Swansboro Middle School student after a teacher’s desire to help at Christmas turned into a surprise of a lifetime for the young Carolina Panthers fan.

Seventh-grader Derrick Buchanan, 13, will be heading to this year’s Super Bowl, but it is how he was invited that he’ll never forget.

That is just what Swansboro Middle School teacher Renee Synan hopes will be the case.

“I hope he will be able to look back on this horrible year after the hurricane and be able to have a good memory,” Synan said.

Derrick, his sister Serenity, and their mother, Crystal Won, were displaced from their home at Sherwood Mobile Home Park in Midway Park after the wind and water damage from the hurricane left it unlivable until repairs could be made.

One school day before Christmas break, Synan was working after school and overheard a conversation among students during which Derrick mentioned the trouble his family was having in getting their home repaired.

Wanting to help but not wanting to intrude, Synan reached out to Derrick’s mom and asked if she could help with Christmas gifts for Derrick, knowing that there has been a financial hardship for many of the families displaced and still recovering after the storm.

Learning that Derrick is a huge Panthers fan, she set out on a plan to pick up a few things on the modest list of things he might like: anything Panthers would do; maybe a shirt, cap, sweatshirt.

Synan contacted her son, Matthew Ginther, who lives in Charlotte and is also a Panthers fan, and the surprise for Derrick took off from there.

Synan said it was her son who suggested they reach out to the Panthers organization to see if they might be able to help in some way. He sent a message on her behalf to the Panthers by social media and email and Synan got a call saying Panthers player Julius Peppers wanted to do something for Derrick.

In September, Peppers partnered with Foundation for the Carolinas to establish a hurricane relief fund.

“Within three days they had everything together (for the surprise for Derrick),” Synan said.

On Dec. 19, the Panthers organization surprised Derrick at school, providing the whole class with a bag of Panthers memorabilia and presenting Derrick with a Peppers jersey and showing the video from Peppers inviting him to attend a Panthers game.

He traveled to Charlotte Dec. 23 with his mom and two friends and got a pre-game visit on the field and a chance to meet Peppers in person. And then he got the second surprise from Peppers, an invitation to the Super Bowl.

“He’s so excited,” Won said.

But even the Super Bowl may not compare to the trip to Charlotte and the chance to see his first NFL game in person.

The soft-spoken teen’s reaction to the announcement at school said it all; there was a look of disbelief that left his speechless but smiling the wide smile Synan sees each day.

“Even with all the things he’s going through, he comes to school every day smiling and doing his work,” Synan said. “He takes it all in stride.”

In a video recorded by the Panthers organization at the school, Derrick expressed his gratitude to his teacher and Peppers.

“I’m so glad my teacher gave me something like this, and Julius, to be able to go to my first (professional) football game,” Derrick said in the video. “Just seeing him might make me cry for two reasons; because he’s the first ever football player I’ve ever seen and also because he helped me see my first live football game.”

Won said she had no idea that the school had reached out to the Panthers and they all went “above and beyond” anything she ever imagined to make the surprise happen for Derrick.

And despite the challenges her family continues to face to recover from Hurricane Florence, Won said it made for their best Christmas ever.

Won said they evacuated and stayed in Maryland during the hurricane and didn’t return home until the end of September.

“I saw some pictures and video of the outside but didn’t know how bad the damage was until I saw it in person; it was devastating,” Won said.

They had major damage to the roof and a corner of the mobile home was ripped off, exposing the inside to the all the rain.

Won said they had holes in the roof and had to rip out flooring and the corner of the house that received the worst damage had to be gutted.

Initially they could not live there and stayed with a friend in Jacksonville. Once students returned to school, Derrick stayed with a friend from school during the week so that he’d be able to get to and from school.

Won said they are on a second appeal for assistance from FEMA and are doing what repairs they can along with way with help from friends. They were able to enclose the exposed corner of the house and get enough repairs done that they could return home just before Christmas.

Won said there is still much work to be done but are thankful for all the help they have received.

“We’re just trying to do the best we can,” she said.

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help the family repair their home. Go to


Reporter Jannette Pippin can be reached at 910-382-2557 or


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