Panthers support middle school student-athletes

The Carolina Panthers have made a $15,000 donation as part of the "Keep Sports in Middle School" campaign launched by the Charlotte Touchdown Club. The team's gift fulfilled the initial fundraising goal set by the Charlotte Touchdown Club, which kicked off the initiative with its own $10,000 donation.

The campaign is designed to help keep sports accessible for Charlotte-Mecklenburg middle school student-athletes after budget cuts forced the school system to adopt a "pay to play" mandate for the upcoming school year. Since Tuesday, $55,000 has been raised - including a $15,000 donation by the NFL Players Association.

"The Carolina Panthers are pleased to participate in the Keep Sports in Middle School campaign. This will provide opportunities for disadvantaged middle-school students to play sports in the midst of budget cuts," said Riley Fields, the Carolina Panthers director of community relations. "The Keep Sports in Middle School scholarship fund is a good idea and matches perfectly with youth football and youth fitness programs that are important to the team. We are proud to support this effort."

The school district is facing massive budget cuts for the 2010-11 school year, which forced the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education to make tough funding decisions. That included eliminating middle school sports from the budget. In order to offer sports to middle school students, the district is implementing a "pay for play" model for middle and high school student-athletes. Middle school student-athletes will pay $50 per sport and high school student-athletes will pay $100 per sport.

"We appreciate the Charlotte Touchdown Club for stepping forward with this initial donation, as well as the local community for pledging to help us offer sports to middle school student-athletes," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman. "I played sports throughout school and I learned some of the most important life lessons on the field - teamwork, determination and the drive to succeed. I know these are important lessons for all of our student-athletes."

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