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COMMENTARY

Sean Kirst: How hesitant Canisius pitcher turned child's drawing into viral tweet

Sean Kirst

A lot of high-profile people put a lot of effort into trying to create "viral tweets." There are corporations, entertainers and politicians who craft entire strategies around shaping tweets they hope will get a running digital start, and then take off.

That is one way to do it.

Another way is to send a tweet so authentic, unexpected and reaffirming that people around the world respond, from the gut.

This week, in Buffalo, Andrew Sipowicz, a pitcher on the Canisius College baseball team, put up a tweet about a note a child left for him on the windshield of his car, a note alerting the 21-year-old senior that the child's school bus driver crashed into his car, then drove away.

Andrew Sipowicz (right) sent out a tweet that has gone viral on the urging of teammates Jared Kennedy (left) and Conner Morro, who is not pictured here. (Andrew Sipowicz image)

Because of that note, Sipowicz called First Student – the company that operates the bus – and received a guarantee the damage will be covered. The child identified herself only as a sixth grader at Houghton Academy. She added a drawing of the school bus, featuring a driver with a cryptic expression and not-so-happy children in the windows, including one kid with that classic O-shaped mouth.

As of Friday morning, the tweet featuring the note had 1.2 million likes, which puts it in the Twitter stratosphere.

Yet Sipowicz, no particular fan of social media, said he had to be talked into sending the tweet at all.

This is how it happened:

Friends and teammates Sipowicz, Jared Kennedy and Conner Morro all were sitting on a bench in a locker room Tuesday at the Koessler Athletic Center, preparing to do some "long toss" to start off a practice for their Canisius College baseball team – a team that is the defending champion, incidentally of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

While they got ready, Sipowicz told his teammates a story that amazed them.

A day earlier, his red Mustang was struck and damaged while parked along Blaine Avenue. It was hit by a school bus, whose driver promptly left the scene. Sipowicz found out who did it only because a sixth grader on the bus wrote him a beautiful note, explaining what happened and apologizing. The child - Sipowicz later learned, through her teacher, that she was a girl - stuck the note under a windshield wiper on the car.

Andrew Sipowicz (center) is seen with some of his main supporters in crafting a tweet that went viral: To reader's left is Jared Kennedy, to far right is Conner Morro, and just behind Morro is Andrew Kneussle, whose text message first alerted Sipowicz that he had a problem with his car. (Image from Sipowicz, showing Canisius baseball team just after it won MAAC Conference championship).

Sipowicz showed his friends a photo of the note that he had saved on his phone, which they passed hand to hand.

Kennedy, who like Sipowicz is a pitcher, said: "Man, you've got to put that on Twitter." He immediately knew it had massive digital potential.

"It's just the kind of feel-good story people jump on," said Kennedy, who saw the child's drawing as Twitter gold.

Sipowicz balked. He is a member of one of the last generations that can still recall a simpler existence with a flip phone, and he has always kept a certain wary distance from the maelstrom of social media.

"I just don't feel the need to be informing people about details of my life all the time," he said.

Kennedy and Morro, a shortstop, did some heavy lobbying. They both sensed that a tweet of the child's note would explode. They argued the kid deserved her moment in the sun.

"I thought it was something you don't see a lot in today's society," said Morro, from Toronto. "There are a lot of feel-good stories that do well out there, and hopefully this kid would get some recognition for a good deed."

Sipowicz thought it over, and gave in. Still, he had a problem: He wanted to post a photo of the child's note side-by-side with a photo of the damage, and he was not versed enough in Twitter to know how to do it. Kennedy, who grew up in Calgary, gave him a quick tutorial.

Sean Kirst: How a Buffalo 6th grader helped solve a school bus hit-and-run

Almost finished, Sipowicz popped in a quick message – "Shoutout to the anonymous 6th grader for saving me a couple thousand," and he added one thought on Kennedy's suggestion:

"Bus not drawn to scale."

Within a few minutes, even before they left the locker room for practice, the tweet had 100 likes.

A while later, when they returned, it had 1,000.

For a little context, the most "likes" Sipowicz guesses he had ever received on a single Tweet numbered about 200, when he announced he was going to Canisius.

The three friends wondered if the tweet might reach 30,000 likes. They allowed themselves to dream of 100,000. Those numbers turned out to be pocket change.

By Friday morning, the tweet was well past 1 million likes and more than 260,000 retweets. It had attracted the attention of international media, including CNN and the BBC. Sipowicz said he gained about 1,700 new followers. He has been hearing from journalists all week, but the most important response came from one of the girl's teachers, who told him a little bit about the child's character.

If everything comes together, Sipowicz hopes to pay a visit to the sixth grader next week.

For now, he is simply overwhelmed by the response. So are his parents, John and Sharon Sipowicz of Orchard Park. Andrew told his mom about the tweet, and she was one of the first nine or 10 people to "like" it. She watched in awe, she said, as it went "up and up and up."

In the end, Sharon is confident it will have little impact on her son. "We're very proud of him, and he's always had a level head on his shoulders," she said. Andrew – who has no intention of seeking criminal charges against the driver – said his greatest satisfaction is that the unidentified sixth grader is getting a reminder of the way many people still respond to fundamental decency.

While Sipowicz intends to retain his caution about social media, Jared Kennedy, his buddy, offers a prediction.

"I think," he said, "he'll have this one pinned on his Twitter account for a while."

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at skirst@buffnews.com or read more of his work in this archive.

 

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