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Batman zooms into Elkins and surprises student


The Inter-Mountain

MILL CREEK, W.Va.  — When the entire student body gathered Wednesday afternoon in front of George Ward Elementary School, 7-year-old Grayson Gragg had no idea he would be meeting Batman for a surprise spin in the Batmobile and a trip to Dairy Queen.

The first-grader later admitted he was expecting the Easter Bunny.

Seven-year-old Grayson Gragg, along with his father, Joey, record a selfie video with West Virginia Batman Wednesday at Dairy Queen in Elkins.
(The Inter-Mountain photo)

Grayson was honored Wednesday by West Virginia Batman, portrayed by John Buckland of Huntington, who travels throughout the region to meet children with health concerns or other challenges.

“I wanted this to be all about him and all about his family, because they’re the real heroes in this,” Buckland said, explaining he serves as a motivational speaker for the Heroes 4 Higher organization.

He was coming to town for the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce’s awards dinner to celebrate “Super Heroes in Business,” and he also wanted to create a special experience for a local child.

Chamber of Commerce representatives, along with Citizens Bank of West Virginia and Dairy Queen, made Wednesday’s experience for Grayson possible.

Grayson went through three surgeries for a condition called chiari malformation, which affected his spine and brain stem. He’s doing well now, although he will not be able to participate in some normal childhood activities, like bouncing on a trampoline or playing contact sports, said his mother, Pam Gragg.

Grayson was diagnosed after his doctor noticed scoliosis in his spine during a 4-year-old wellness checkup, and Gragg said she and her family were lucky to have a good support system.

His teacher, Christy Malcomb, called Grayson a wonderful kid with a great attitude.

“He’s amazing,” Malcomb said Wednesday afternoon. “He’s been through a lot, and he never complains.”

She said some teachers and students at George Ward Elementary knew ahead of time that Batman was coming to surprise Grayson, and it was hard to keep it a secret.

Although Grayson is actually a student of Homestead Elementary, he and other Homestead students currently are attending George Ward in Mill Creek because their school suffered major storm damage last month.

Some classes made signs for Grayson, with sayings such as “Grayson is awesome just like Batman” and “Grayson, you’re batriffic.” Many people wore shirts with Batman logos, and everyone was clearly excited to meet the superhero in person.

When Buckland’s Batmobile pulled up in front of the school, students shrieked and cheered. He asked the students if they knew why he was there, and they quickly pointed to Grayson, who was surprised and shy at first.

Buckland lifted Grayson onto the Batmobile, and told everyone that Grayson is a real hero.

“Tough times make you stronger,” he said, thanking the children for supporting Grayson and encouraging them to be kind to one another.

“There’s heroes like this all over the world,” Buckland said.

At Dairy Queen, Buckland ordered a banana split, while Grayson had an Oreo Blizzard. Family, friends, Chamber representatives, Citizens Bank employees and West Virginia State Police officers also joined in the ice cream party.

Grayson’s family present Wednesday included his parents, Pam and Joey Gragg; his 12-year-old brother, Kaden; 5-year-old sister, Addisyn; grandparents Linda and Terry Grimes; and cousins, Dalton, Madison, Kaylee and Ryan.

Kathy Leombruno, senior vice president and marketing officer at Citizens Bank of West Virginia, said the idea to honor Grayson and have an ice cream party started out as a random act of kindness from the bank, and it turned out that Dairy Queen picked up the tab.

Leombruno said the visits to the school and to Dairy Queen were a true success.

“I think the kids were inspired and in awe,” she said. “I think Batman became an even bigger superhero to them.”

Grayson’s mother agreed, noting Grayson already was a huge fan of Batman. He turned 7 earlier this month, and he had picked Batman decorations for his birthday party.

Grayson didn’t have much to say to reporters about the ride in the Batmobile other than calling the experience “really cool,” but his mother said it was a big deal for him.

“He wanted to ride in the Batmobile again and go back to school,” she said, adding how excited Grayson was about meeting the superhero. “He’ll not be quiet now for two days,” she joked.

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