Wednesday, July 30, 2014
By Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington, produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
“When do we need to get ready for the Panthers Party?” “How much longer before we leave?” “Will we get to see Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Luke Kuechly or Kelvin Benjamin?” “Should I wear my Panthers hat?” “How long will it take us to get to Wofford?”
Those were just a few of the questions I fielded on Saturday before the Carolina Panthers “Back to Football” Party, the official kick-off to the Panthers Summer Training Camp at Wofford College.
For Daniel, my 11-year-old son who has a Cam Newton fathead on his wall, Panthers stickers on his school notebooks and three different Panthers jerseys hanging in the closet, the event offered enough player sightings to quench even the worst case of football fever.
As a mom, it meant a day of managing anticipation, but the fun he had with his friend, the intensity with which they watched practice and the wholesome entertainment (free wholesome entertainment, I might add) made braving the record-setting crowd, heat and humidity completely worth it.
We arrived at Gibbs Stadium at 4:30 p.m., just after the gates opened. We wandered, found shade in the shadow of the Bojangles food truck, wandered some more, found more shade, then waited in line for shaved ice, probably the most popular booth at the event.
The shaved ice line offered the ideal spot for fan watching — face-painted children, body-painted adults, every imaginable combination of Panther blue and black, babies in strollers, a man using a walker with the Panthers colors duct-taped around bars, couples out for a cheap date, families posing for photos in front of the huge inflatable Panther, tiny cheerleaders in training trailing behind the Panthers cheerleaders. Watching all of those people made me realize that one of my favorite things about the Panthers is the diversity of the fans.
It seemed on that July 26 afternoon that everyone in both states was a fan, and the Panthers were rolling out the red carpet in welcome.
Although our 11-year-old had no interest in getting a photo taken with one of the TopCats (give him a few years), he did stand in line to beat the “Keep Pounding” Panthers base drum. He gave Sir Purr a high five, and we found ourselves on the front row of an impromptu performance by PurrCussion, the Panthers super-cool and energetic drum line.
Once inside the stadium, we found seats up high. At first we were kicking ourselves because we thought we should have come in and staked a claim on better seats earlier, but then we realized that there really aren’t bad seats in Gibbs Stadium. We had a great view of the on-field action and were high enough up to get a little early shade and a nice breeze. (I’d definitely sit there again.)
Pre-practice entertainment included a cute pack of dogs that caught Frisbees, performances by the TopCats and PurrCussion, and the Mayor’s Ball Run to officially open Training Camp 2014. Daniel kept a close eye on Cam Newton’s movements as the football star made his way onto the field. He wanted to see for himself that the Panthers QB was moving well and recovering quickly after post-season ankle surgery.
We sat a few feet down from a group of football coaches from an area high school who were watching the drills that the Carolina Panthers were doing and typing notes on their smart phones. We sat above a single dad who explained that he was glad that this was his weekend to have the children. We talked with a couple of 30-something-year-olds who explained that they’ve been coming to Summer Training Camp since they were kids.
Sitting with my family, surrounded by other families, I realized how much I appreciate owner and founder Jerry Richardson and the Carolina Panthers for holding training camp in Spartanburg, S.C. It’s not just a North Carolina team, and their commitment to summer camp at Wofford gives South Carolina a feeling of shared ownership.
Just before practice ended I was having a conversation with a friend. As we looked over the heads of the thousands of people watching the organized chaos of practice below, she said: “The best thing about this is that most of these people will never be able to come to Charlotte for a game, but they can come here — to Wofford — and see the players and get a taste of the excitement of NFL game day.”
I nodded my agreement and took another look around. What heat? What humidity? At that point all I noticed was Panther black and blue, and I was proud to be a part of it.
Practices throughout camp are free and open to the public, and parking is free. For a full practice schedule (subject to change), go to http://www.panthers.com/schedule/training-camp/practice-schedule.html.
Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington is the mother of three, a freelance writer and an avid sports fan. She is a member of the Marketing & Communications team at Wofford College.