Tears welled in Mallory Stonier’s eyes when she heard the news: She gets to walk with a soccer player as the American team takes the field at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
The 9-year-old was at a loss for words, burying her face in her mother’s chest, as the surprise was unveiled Friday afternoon in front of her family and east Vancouver soccer team.
“It was really embarrassing because everyone was looking at me,” the soft-spoken Mallory said as she wiped tears away in the Mill Plain McDonald’s.
Rest assured, they were happy tears. The Harmony Elementary School student is one of 26 kids around the country who won a national sweepstakes sponsored by McDonald’s to be “player escorts” for the U.S. national team at the World Cup next month.
Her dad, Brandon Stonier, came across the contest a few weeks ago while looking at a soccer website. He filled out the application, including details about his daughter’s involvement with the Washington Timbers Football Club, but he didn’t tell Mallory anything about it.
“I entered it lightheartedly thinking no one wins these things,” he said. “It’s been a whirlwind ever since.”
It was tough to keep a secret, especially when Mallory recently mentioned that she would love to attend the World Cup someday. By then, Brandon Stonier already knew she had won.
He drove her to the Mill Plain McDonald’s after school Friday, saying that she would get free french fries for wearing her soccer uniform. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary. The family frequents that location and goes there with her team all the time.
“You know your dad owes you,” Val Hadwin told Mallory. Hadwin owns the Mill Plain McDonald’s, along with her husband, Matt.
Most of the time, Hadwin said, when kids are told they’re going to be player escorts, it isn’t a surprise. Someone tells them or they figure it out.
The Vancouver family and a family from Seattle were the only winners in the Pacific Northwest, according to McDonald’s spokeswoman Michelle Safo.
“I love soccer because it’s really fun to play with your friends,” said Mallory, who’s been playing since she was 3 years old.
Her favorite position is forward, and last weekend she scored four goals in her team’s game. She followed in the footsteps of her 11-year-old brother Zach, a diehard soccer fan who’s understandably a bit jealous about her good fortune. Still, he was happy and excited for her, presenting her with a flower bouquet at the restaurant.
She hopes that at the World Cup, she’ll walk hand-in-hand with Omar Gonzalez, a defender for the L.A. Galaxy. Zach got to walk out with Gonzalez during a Major League Soccer game at Providence Park, where the Portland Timbers play.
While Mallory and her dad are in Brazil, they’ll watch the USA play Portugal. They leave for their five-day trip on June 18.