Dayton Fliers: Field of dreams

Those who have not been to Panthers training camp this summer have missed quite a sight. There has been Monday Night at the Movies, T-Shirt Tuesday, and a festive Back to Football Party. And yes, there has been plenty of Panthers football with daily practices and fans being able to get up-close and personal with the players for the workouts and autograph sessions.

It has been something to see, and someone envisioned it some 15 years ago.

That was Panthers President Danny Morrison. At the time he was director of athletics at Wofford College, and when Jerry Richardson started pursuing an NFL team for the Carolinas, Morrison saw an opportunity.

While he will say it was a "just a case of the stars aligning perfectly" at the time, there was much more to it. With Richardson being a Wofford graduate, Morrison saw a trifecta that would bring an NFL training camp to Wofford, enable the school to enhance its athletics program with upgraded facilities, and create a business opportunity for the Spartanburg community.

Visions do not always go the way as planned, but in this case Morrison's foresight was 20/20.

A fund-raising program enabled Wofford to build the facilities to bring the Panthers training camp to the school, and now the team's summer association with Wofford is the fourth-longest camp tenure in the NFL.

Those same facility improvements were the lynchpin for a move by the Terriers to the Southern Conference where they have been most competitive, winning the league's football championship in 2003 and advancing to the Division I-AA semifinals. Last spring, the basketball team won the conference title and narrowly lost to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament.

The community involvement has always been consistent but has reached a new level this summer with the innovations that resulted from a cross-functional department team set up to study how to improve the fan experience at training camp.

The result has been one of the most successful and entertaining camps ever. Football remains the main course, but appealing side dishes have been added. The first movie night featured "Radio" (with an appearance by Radio himself), and "Blindside" will be shown tomorrow night. Still to come before camp ends on Aug. 18 are two more T-Shirt Tuesdays, a Tailgate Party on Aug. 14 and Family Fun Day on Aug. 15.

So while many things have remained the same in Spartanburg's summers (it is still hot), the activity on Morrison's "field of dreams" on the Wofford College campus is very different.

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