CHARLOTTE – A collection of Panthers players took time out of their Friday – their day off after an 18-6 preseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers – to hand-deliver backpacks filled with school supplies to the students of Devonshire Elementary School in East Charlotte.
With Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools beginning the academic year earlier in the week, this event, a partnership between the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation, Classroom Central and Carolina Panthers Charities, was the perfect opportunity to make a good impression on young minds.
"We hope that these supplies help you out in that process of having a great school year," Davis announced to a class. "I brought my teammates with me, and they understand the importance of an education."
Those 12 teammates included fellow linebackers Brian Blechen, Jeremy Cash, A.J. Klein, Luke Kuechly, David Mayo, Jared Norris and Shaq Thompson, as well as tight ends Ed Dickson and Greg Olsen, defensive tackle Paul Soliai and running backs Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker – not to mention two TopCats and Sir Purr himself.
Sir Purr especially was a hit with the students. As would be expected by a team mascot, he was always the first to enter a classroom and rise a cheer. One young scholar was barely able to contain himself, bouncing in his seat with a grin from ear-to-ear as the friendly feline sat in the desk right beside him.
But the event had higher intentions than putting smiles on children's faces.
"Today was all about coming out here and giving back to these kids," Davis said, "and really expressing the importance of education. That's why we wanted to provide them with some school supplies and backpacks. It can really help them get a jumpstart on the school year."
Just as Sir Purr was the first to enter a classroom, Olsen, with son T.J. in tow, was always the last one to leave. He made sure to answer any student's questions, and even made sure to catch a touchdown in Thursday's game against Denver for the class.
"I really think that it speaks to the character of the men that we have on this football team," said Davis, who knows a thing or two about character as the 2014 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner. "When you look at the number of guys that decided to come out here today – they could've been doing anything else on our day off, but they decided to come out here and help and do these things, not only for myself, but for these kids. I think it really speaks volumes to their character."
Karen Calder, the executive director of Classroom Central, says that the team's generosity will not go unnoticed by the students, and even has the potential to impact generations to come.
"Children that are growing up in poverty are so much more likely to drop out of school," she said, "and to get engaged in negative behavior, and a lot of that is because they don't have a positive attachment to school from the very start. So, having the materials that you need to be successful creates that positive bond, that attachment to school, has them wanting to come to school, has them wanting to stay in school, and that's really the key to success. Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty."
The lone rookie on the trip, Cash enjoyed one of his first opportunities to give back to the Queen City.
"It's a great opportunity, just getting the feel for everything that the Carolina Panthers and the community has to offer. We do so much for the community, and the community does so much for us. It's the least we could do just to give back to them."
"It shines a light on the need in this community," Calder added, "and that's what events like this do, and maybe it will inspire others to get involved and give back. We have 14 schools that are targeted for this program this year. We've served the most number of schools we've ever served – 10, so we're still four shy, but hopefully this will inspire others to get involved and give back."
View photos of Thomas Davis and several other Panthers as they distribute school supplies to students at Devonshire Elementary.