CHARLOTTE, NC — For more than a decade, beloved crossing guard "Stop Sign James" Gaither has helped ensure students at Eastover Elementary and Barringer Academic Center get to class safely. Now, the 82-year-old guard is a contender in a national online contest that could name him America’s Favorite Crossing Guard.
Gaither, who picked up the stop-sign paddle 10 years ago after he retired, has never missed a day, starting his morning every day at 4:30 a.m., rain or shine.
"James is a gift to our school," said Eastover parent Leesa Clardy, who’s son affectionately calls him "Stop Sign James."
As of Monday morning, Gaither was trending well in online voting among the 55 contenders currently competing in the America’s Favorite Crossing Guard contest, which ends Wednesday, Jan. 31.
"He is currently in 10th place, but needs to be in the top 5 to advance," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said Monday in a Facebook post.
Judges will select a winner from the top five semi-finalists, and will reward the winning school with a pep rally and celebration, the site said. The winning school will also receive a $500 grant and the crossing guard will also receive prizes.
"Every day, he starts our students off right with a huge smile, telling them how excited he is to see them," Barringer principal Stephanie Range said in a statement about Gaither. "At the end of the day, he is there telling them to have a great night and sending them off with a final burst of love. No matter how my day has been, James always puts me in a great frame of mind. His warmth and kindness just emanate in all that he does. He is a blessing to our school community."
Photo courtesy of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools