When Andreas James heard his name called in the Hilton Head Island Boys and Girls Club gymnasium, his slow, shy smile was a mix of shock and joy.
For a decade the 15-year-old has dreamed of becoming a pilot. On Wednesday afternoon, as he descended the bleachers to applause and stomping feet, he learned the community was just as determined as he was to see that dream come true.
He had won a $2,500 scholarship from Hank Aaron's Chasing the Dream Foundation, designed to give kids like Andreas a chance to pursue their goals.
"When I see somebody that's really wanting something badly and willing to work for it, it's just a wonderful thing to see," said Don Baldwin, a pilot and president of Baldwin Aviation on Hilton Head Island. Baldwin has mentored James for more than a year and nominated him for the award.
"This is going to take him a long, long way," he said.
Baldwin and club members gathered Wednesday to surprise the teenager with the award, which will help fund pilot lessons in the coming months.
"I had a chill go down my spine," said Andreas, beaming and surrounded by his family after the gym cleared.
Past recipients of the scholarship, founded by baseball legend Hank Aaron in 1994, have included kids with a range of dreams, from NBA-hopefuls to would-be auctioneers and ventriloquists, said Chris Protz, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry.
Hundreds of children and teenagers have received the awards, which are renewable each year through age 18. All of the recipients share qualities of dedication, leadership and respect that prompt communities to rally behind them, Protz said.
Andreas joined those ranks after the Boys and Girls Club of Hilton Head took notice of not only his unwavering ambition to become a pilot but how he served as a positive influence and mentor to younger children.
His mom, Michaela James, learned the good news two weeks ago.
"When I found out, I was like, 'Oh my God, are you serious?' " she said. "I always told him, you could be anything you want to be."
And since he was 5 years old, Andreas wanted to be a pilot. Even earlier, he was tagging along with his grandmother, formerly a US Airways employee, to the Hilton Head Island Airport, exploring the planes before takeoff and chatting with pilots.
"I keep telling him, 'It's like driving forever, like a trucker.' I told him, 'I need a lawyer in the family,' " Margarete James joked, smiling at her grandson. "But he would say no, 'I like to fly.' "
In sixth grade, Andreas joined the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, and looked forward to the rare days when a Cessna would fly in to take the group soaring over Beaufort County.
Sometimes, as the small plane would circle the skies, his hands were on the controls.
When school got tougher in eighth grade and Andreas had to give up the patrol's weekly meetings, he kept his dream alive by studying aviation books almost every week with Baldwin.
With flying lessons back within reach, Andreas wasted no time setting a new goal:
"To get my pilot's license before my driver's license."