CHARLOTTE – From giving children a chance to play football, to introducing football as a spectator sport to kids of all ages, the Panthers are embracing the growing Hispanic community in the Carolinas.
The effort will be evident when the Panthers recognize Hispanic Heritage Month during their game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
"Over the last decade, our two states (North and South Carolina) have ranked in the top 10 in the country in terms of the percentage growth among our Hispanic population," said Henry Thomas, the Panthers' director of broadcasting and new media. "As these numbers continued to expand, we felt strongly that it was time to reach out to this growing community."
On game day, Carolina Panthers Charities along with Norsan Multimedia will present a check for $12,500 to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the nation's leading non-profit focused on empowering the Hispanic community through education.
Jorge Hernandez of Camino Church will deliver the pre-game invocation while flags fly from seven Hispanic nations that declared their independence between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, the annual dates for Hispanic Heritage Month.
In addition, the Latin American Coalition will have an information booth set up outside the stadium.
The Panthers' outreach efforts, however, extend well beyond one day. Four Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary schools – Sterling, Nations Ford, Albermarle and Montclaire – are hosting Junior Training Camps over the course of the month, the kickoff to a year-long Hispanic Flag Football initiative by the Panthers.
The series of Junior Training Camps began Wednesday at Sterling Elementary School, with 250 fourth- and fifth-graders going through six stations that tested their skills from catching passes to sacking a quarterback. Going forward, the students will have the opportunity to play flag football as a part of their physical education curriculum.
"The Junior Training Camp Program is designed to introduce students to the basics of football in a fun and engaging way," said Riley Fields, the Panthers' director of community relations.
On Panthers game days, the team has engaged the area's Hispanic population in another way: through the creation of the Panthers Spanish Radio Network. This season, Panthers games are being broadcast in Spanish on Charlotte flagship station WOLS 106.1 FM (operated by Norsan Multimedia) and in four additional markets to date: Greensboro (WIST 98.3 FM), Raleigh (WCLY 1550 AM), Wilmington/Jacksonville (WLGC 98.7 FM) and Columbia, S.C. (WCEO 840 AM).
To get the word out, the Panthers' ticket department produced 200,000 pocket schedules in Spanish that were distributed throughout the region.
The Panthers' celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with the launch of www.NFL.com/espanol, the official Spanish language website of the NFL.
The U.S. government began recognizing Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 but enacted the recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month into law in 1988. The period from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 was selected because seven Hispanic countries celebrate their independence during that period, in addition to Columbus Day on second Monday of October.