Panthers give $147,556 gift in honor of fans

Carolina Panthers Charities stunned officials from Special Olympics North Carolina and Special Olympics South Carolina with surprise grants of $73,778 each on Friday. The gifts were awarded in a "Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes" meets "Extreme Home Makeover" reveal in front of a cheering throng of Panthers staff at Bank of America Stadium.

With dozens chanting the Special Olympics slogan, "Be a fan," Keith Fishburne - executive director of Special Olympics North Carolina, and Barry Coats - CEO of Special Olympics South Carolina, were escorted to the field for the surprise. After a welcome by Panthers radio play-by-play announcer Mick Mixon, Panthers staff instructed Fishburne and Coats to "Open that gift!" They were then presented large gift-wrapped checks.

The $73,778 amounts represent the seating capacity of Bank of America Stadium and are given in honor of Panthers fans.

"When you consider the collective philanthropic and volunteerism efforts of Panthers fans, the cumulative impact they create for non-profits in our region is staggering," said Riley Fields, the Carolina Panthers director of community relations. "Carolina Panthers Charities is pleased to provide these grants to Special Olympics, which does such terrific work, in recognition of the team's fans who contribute so much to our community."

The funding will provide resources to create developmental flag football programs for Special Olympics in North and South Carolina, as well as other participation opportunities for the states' 55,000 Special Olympians. The Panthers will supplement the grants with services and support, including volunteer assistance and new equipment.

"Participating in sports has so many positive outcomes, including physical, mental and social benefits. These experiences are especially vital for special needs children and adults," Fields said. "Special Olympics offers a wonderful platform to provide these experiences. This is an exciting day in part because of the opportunities that will be created for deserving children and adults with this funding."

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