With Labor Day behind us, summer has come to a close.
Over that last weekend of summer, I flew down to Charlotte, N.C. To witness history at my alma mater, UNC Charlotte. They played their first-ever football game in school history, and thanks in large part to my old roommate Greg’s season tickets, I was able to be a part of it.
Very few times in our lives do we get the chance to witness something of such epic proportions. My school is a Div. 1 institution with over 25,000 undergraduate students that has been open since 1946 but for whatever reason, never had a football team until now.
During my freshman year, I remember students carrying a goalpost through campus to protest that the school lacked a football team. Well, finally their prayers were answered. There was no chance on this earth that I would miss such a momentous occasion. I was one of the 15,000-plus standing-room-only crowd to witness Charlotte make history with its 52-7 drumming of former Carolina Panther Mike Minter-coached Campbell Fighting Camels.
Two-years ago, when the university broke ground on the stadium, I was there covering it for the student newspaper and television station. When the first concrete was poured, I was there. It was nothing short of magical. Jerry Richardson Stadium, named after current Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, was beaming with enthusiasm from alumni traveling from as far west as California.
My friends and I arrived on campus around 7 a.m. to start preparations for our first-ever Saturday morning tailgate. Mind you, I flew in about eight hours prior, and we stayed up all night basking in fantasyland, thinking about what the first game was going to be like. The answer, absolutely magical.
Tickets for the sold-out event were being hawked by online ticket brokers for seven-times face value, at over $200. It was the hottest ticket in town. There were rumors swelling that the university would close the porches on the academic buildings that look down into the stadium — they did not.
There was also a rumor that the grassy hill that provides a bird’s-eye view down into the stadium would be closed — it was not. Even the city police officers could not wipe the proud grin off their faces. It was finally here. Saturday’s college football game, while it may not have relevancy to many of the people in this area directly, did hold a deeper meaning.
Football is more than the barbaric sport the media depicts it to be. It’s the atmosphere surrounding the kick-off, the camaraderie of you and your fellow supporters. It’s about bringing people together from all financial and ethnic backgrounds. For three hours, the only thing that matters is the outcome of the game. Players, fans and coaches can put the trials and tribulations of everyday life behind them.
Just two plays into the game, Charlotte scored its first touchdown on a 32-yard interception by Mark Hogan. As Hogan sprinted across the goal-line nearest to where I was sitting, I noticed many of the people around me collectively scream with jubilation. Some were crying, including the woman to my left who said she had been waiting 20 years to witness such a moment, and it was finally here.
Sports mean more to a community than the obvious entertainment value; they are about reuniting community members both near and far, whether via a television or in person. Saturday’s college football game made me a proud young alum of my university. When the clock struck zero, fans piled onto the field to celebrate with the team, while the police officers and security just watched, smiling.
After the game, my friend’s little brother was suffering from symptoms of heat exhaustion. The fraternity brothers tailgating across from us brought over some Gatorade and water to help rehydrate him. That’s a shining example of how sports are about much more than just the game. Those frat brothers did not know the little boy, but they saw he was in need and acted accordingly. That little instance reminded me of the true good of people, and the real meaning of sports.
As the local high school teams start their regular season grind, remind yourself of the true value of sport. It is the high-fives of strangers in the stands you have never met, it’s the name of the team you display proudly across your chest, and, more importantly, it is a temporary escape from the challenges of everyday life.