Ams pay tribute to biggest fan with bobblehead

KENNEWICK -- It's impossible to talk to people about Jimmy "Woo-Hoo" Butcher without hearing the words "inspiration," "joy" and "love."

Those who don't know him might think Jimmy needs help -- he was in special-needs classes in school and describes himself as a slow learner.

But Jimmy doesn't ask for help -- he helps others all day. He's a crossing guard, he carries people's groceries and he volunteers with little kids. For this, Jimmy doesn't ask for recognition, but he's deeply moved when receives it.

And this week the 43-year-old man with the smile that won't quit will be recognized in a way few sports fans ever are -- a bobblehead doll in his likeness will be given out when the Tri-City Americans play at the Toyota Center on Friday.

Jimmy won that honor through his unwavering support for the team. His battle cry -- the "Woo-Hoo" first made famous by Homer Simpson -- has rallied audiences at Kennewick's hockey arena for years.

Jimmy didn't know anything about hockey when the Americans moved to town in 1988. "I went to see what the game was like," he said.

He was instantly hooked by the "speed and excitement of the game," he said, his eyes gleaming as if he were sitting alongside the rink that moment. "It's so fast-paced."

He soon became a fixture at the games and has stuck with the team through thick and thin.

"Win or lose -- Jimmy has a smile on his face and supports the team," said Brian Sandy, vice president of business operations for the Americans.

He will be smiling even bigger Friday, when it's "Tribute to Jimmy Butcher Night" at the arena.

At the end of last season, team officials decided they wanted to do something for the fans this winter. Sandy suggested a Jimmy bobblehead.

Boxes of the dolls resembling the gentle man in his Americans team jacket arrived last week. Jimmy gave the design a big thumbs-up. "A special honor," he said, visibly touched as he turned a doll in his hands.

There likely won't be a dry eye in the house Friday when Jimmy drops the ceremonial game puck and sings the national anthem before the game. And after the first period it's bobblehead time.

The first 2,400 spectators through the doors will get paper slips in one of three colors. Team officials will announce a color after the first period. The 800 people holding a strip of that color can pick up a bobblehead in the Dreamers Lounge, Sandy said.

The team also set some aside for charity, he said.

And they had better give a couple of boxes to Jimmy, because a whole bunch of little hockey players are anxiously awaiting their Jimmy dolls.

Jimmy isn't just a fan of professional hockey -- he helps prepare the next generation of players at the Tri-Cities Amateur Hockey Association.

He's an assistant coach for the Ice Wizards, a team of 6- to 8-year-olds. He seems to enjoy that even more than watching his beloved Americans.

"Seeing the kids having success -- it brings me a lot of joy," Jimmy said.

He makes sure to give back that joy.

In December, the Wizards went to Lewiston for a tournament. One of the young players, Bryce Wellsfry, scored a hat-trick -- three goals in one game.

"I wanted to give him the game puck, but it belonged to the other team," Jimmy said. "So I decided to get him something better."

Back in Kennewick, he bought a puck and had the Americans players sign it.

"Bryce really enjoyed that," Jimmy said.

And now he can give every kid a present. Jimmy has promised everyone on the team a bobblehead, said Johnny Goff, whose son Brock is an Ice Wizard.

"My boy can hardly wait," Goff said.

The kids love Jimmy, Goff said, and so do the adults.

Jimmy had his birthday on that trip to Lewiston -- not that he was going to make a big deal out of it.

But the parents did. They took him to a pizza place and gave him a birthday cake and a team shirt.

Jimmy doesn't always speak in full sentences. He often just says the one word that's central to his message.

"Surprised," he said, remembering that birthday party.

He shouldn't be.

"I love the guy; he's great," Goff said. "We need more people like him."