CHARLOTTE – The Panthers on Wednesday kicked off the new school year with a bolt of enthusiasm, backpacks filled with school supplies, and 450 jubilant children at Hickory Grove Elementary School.
A high-energy pep rally at the Charlotte elementary school capped off a backpack and school supplies distribution program, which provided 25,000 backpacks and school supplies to high-needs school districts in North and South Carolina.
The David and Nicole Tepper Foundation, Carolina Panthers Charities, Bank of America, and the John M. Belk Endowment partnered in the effort, while Classroom Central coordinated the multi-school distribution.
"It's huge," Hickory Grove principal Matthew Bower said. "Not only backpacks, but they had supplies inside. That all our kids could start the school year with a backpack is awesome. … Day one, every child came to school with a backpack, so it's great."
Elementary schoolers dressed in Panthers T-shirts swung blue pompoms to welcome Sir Purr, the TopCats, owner Nicole Tepper, and Panthers president Kristi Coleman.
"(There are) so many emotions," Tepper said. "I just think of being a child, getting that backpack, and having the confidence to be successful."
Each student received a backpack during the school's open house function. Some students had already written their names on the black bags, filled with various classroom essentials for the upcoming school year, including pencils, composition books, crayons, markers, and glue sticks.
Tepper smiled and hugged children as she walked the blue carpet to give encouraging words to students ahead of the school year.
"It's important to the Panthers (and) to our family," Tepper said. "Knowing my mother-in-law was a teacher, Dave's daughter Randi was a teacher, education is so important to us. Giving back in this capacity and seeing smiles is really, really, really important. And if it makes you want to do more."
Students also heard encouraging messages about the importance of exercise, sleep, nutrition, and reading to kick off the start of the new school year.
Panthers game day DJ Vinny Esposito excited the crowd before the pep rally, which included a team obstacle course race, Panthers-themed prizes, music, cheering, and confetti.
"The kids were just thrilled," Bower said. "It's great. It gets everybody excited about the school year."
View photos from Wednesday's pep rally and school supply donation event at Hickory Grove Elementary school as part of the David and Nicole Tepper Foundation backpack distribution program.