Bullying at school is something that thousands of children deal with. It can come in many forms: emotional, physical, cyberbullying, and more.
For one young boy, that was his everyday experience at school — being relentlessly bullied and having few friends. In fact, he didn’t even go out to play during recess.
The boy’s name is James Willmert and he was already struggling with a host of issues beyond the bullying
His father was killed in an accident when he was 6 years old. Then he was diagnosed with learning disabilities. He was struggling in school both in the classroom and out of it. Life at Franklin Elementary School in Mankato, Minnesota wasn’t going well.
Life was tough for the fifth-grader
But then, a group of boys stepped in and changed his life.
Jack Pemble, Jake Burgess, Gus Gartzke, Tyler Jones, and Landon Kopischke were troubled by what they saw from their classmates. They knew James wasn’t being treated well. So, they decided to reach out and invite him to their friend group.
“They were using him and taking advantage of him,” said Jake.
The boys said they had always been taught to treat everyone with kindness and respect, and the way their classmates were acting toward James didn’t sit well with them
“He’s easier to pick on, and it’s just not right,” said Jack.
So, they decided to start small by sitting with him at lunch and inviting him to play touch football during recess. Pretty soon the group of boys was inseparable, changing James’ whole experience at school.
“He used to not want to go out for recess or anything,” said his mom, Margi Willmert. “And now he can barely eat his lunch to get outside to play with those guys.”
James integrated into the group so well that soon they had started calling themselves the James gang
First, they bonded over their love of sports. Then they got him interested in video games, including multiplayer games they could all enjoy together.
After finding out that James didn’t have his own video game system, they all went in together to buy him one with their parents filling in the cash they didn’t have.
Margi Willmert said when they dropped off the new video game system, it was a moment that would stick in her mind for the rest of her life
Not only because they’d done a nice thing for her son, but also because it was the first time James had ever had friends over.
“Every one of them was smiling like crazy,” she recalled. “I’ll never forget it. Never.”
After they formed the James Gang, the boys’ story went viral and was picked up by news stations. They were rewarded with tickets to the Minnesota Twins and the Vikings. Meanwhile, the Mall of America donated new Xbox consoles to the group.
But that’s not the most important thing
What’s most important is that it’s been five years and their friendship is still going strong. They’re now sophomores in high school, but if their start was any indication, it’s that these boys are supporting one another for good.
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