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The story behind that GIF of a kid literally keeping his eye on the ball
A moment from a children's gym in Greensboro keeps popping up over and over again. If you know the guy in the video, you know how genuine it is.
There is no shortage of GIFs showing guys getting hit in the nuts, so you could be forgiven for giving up on this particular GIF before it reaches its conclusion. Here you have a kid with a bat. You have an instructor who’s dangerously close to that kid. That instructor is down on his knees, and his waist is at bat level. You know what is going to happen next.
Instead, something else happens. Something we’re not used to on the internet. Something sweet.
Sometimes, when you’re a GIF detective trying to track down leads, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s because there’s a purposeful disconnect; The whole point of a GIF is to project a specific feeling as conveyed by a out-of-context moment. I have not seen Jeremiah Johnson, yet I know exactly I’m doing when I tweet at you with a GIF of Robert Redford subtly smiling and nodding while looking over his shoulder as the camera slowly zooms in. That moment, at least, is from a once-popular movie. Other GIFs are pulled from the vast swath of smartphone-recorded humanity, and few of them come with names or locations embedded in them. So when you’re trying to find a GIF’s origin story in a world of nearly 8 billion humans, how do you even go about identifying the people in it?
Well, it helps if you already know one of the people in the GIF.
The guy in the black shirt and man bun is Andrew Hall, an instructor at The Little Gym of Greensboro. Actually, he’s Mr. Andrew to my two kids, who used to take classes at The Little Gym on Saturday mornings. They got to run around on padded gymnastics equipment — balance beams, springboards, tumbling mats and the like — before going to a class that was fully of earwormy children’s songs sung in a circle. The instructors there were particularly understanding and supportive. They knew how to support a kid whose fine motor skills were particularly fine, as well as a child who fell a lot and wandered off during group activities.
So, when I first encountered this GIF in the wild a while back, I had two thoughts. First: That’s Mr. Andrew! And second: That is totally Mr. Andrew.
The Genesis Of A GIF
“That was almost five years ago,” Andrew told me recently. The boy in the video is almost eight now, but at the time, he was turning three. In fact, the only reason why his mother was shooting video is because she wanted to have a record of what he was doing on his birthday.
The class on that day focused on sports skills, and then it came time to learn how to hit a baseball. “I said something I’ve heard my whole life,” Andrew says. “Keep your eye on the ball.” When one boy came up, he did exactly what he was told.
“All I could do was reach over and give him a hug,” Andrew says. It was his natural reaction.
The mother showed the video to other family members, who came to the consensus that it was hilarious. Someone suggested that they send it to America’s Funniest Home Videos. And so, they did.
“In hindsight, that kinda stinks,” Andrew says. Everyone had to sign release forms, giving AFV ownership of the clip. And then… nothing happened. At least, not until the video showed up on Facebook.
From there, it took off. The official AFV post, in 2016, got 230,000 views. Then a since-removed version on the Kyoot Kids Facebook page got 14 million views. At that point, it was inevitable that someone would GIF it.
After the video went viral, the boy’s family was terrified. Even though they’d shared the video with AFV, they hadn’t quite been prepared for that kind of attention. The thing is, though, it hasn’t been a bad experience, maybe because the video is of such a positive moment. “Nobody really cares who it is,” Andrew says. “They care about the action.” Everybody involved is cool with it now. A few weeks ago, Andrew saw the boy with his family at Target. “Hey, there’s the guy who made you famous!” they told him.
Now, the video or the GIF shows up with some regularity. Andrew keeps getting texts from friends who see it for the first time (or the tenth time). He’s heard of the video being used at business conferences. Rex Chapman tweeted it out last August. Andrew has a hunch that it comes up on yearly cycles, since people who have shared it see it show up every year in their Facebook memories and share it again. And yes, everyone who starts watching it expects a different outcome. “My friends thought I was gonna get racked in the nuts,” Andrew says.
Video or not, though, that moment was something that stuck out to Andrew, even after nearly a decade of working with kids. “Even if it didn’t go viral, I would have remembered it,” he says.
A Coach Who Doesn’t Yell
Andrew graduated from UNC-Greensboro with a degree in kinesiology, and had plans to go on to grad school and be a gym teacher. Those plans never materialized, and so Andrew went looking for a job. One day, about eight years ago, he came across a listing for a gym director. At first, he thought he’d be managing a Gold’s Gym or a Planet Fitness. But it turns out the job needed someone who had his education background, but also loved kids. Andrew had always loved coaching, but didn’t like the yelling. After a few weeks at The Little Gym, “I knew this was the right fit.”
He’s learned a lot since then. The biggest lesson: kids are more intelligent than we give them credit for. They take you at your word. You might see a moment when a kid literally puts his eye on the ball and think, well, he doesn’t know any better. Andrew sees it differently. Every child has a “sweet, sweet, innocent little mind,” he says. “They’re so incredibly smart, they don’t know how silly that is.”
Andrew is now the general manager at The Little Gym, and he and his wife have a baby on the way in June. He’s also a die hard sports fan and, yes, has his own podcast. But he still loves teaching classes with kids. The other day, he was helping a little girl on the balance beam and, to help her feel more stable, he suggested that she hold on to the sides. So, the girl grabbed her hips. Andrew reacted as he always does. He gave her a hug.