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Gridiron Girl

by Angela Lindsay

September 4,2005

Soon, the lazy days of summer will be a distant memory. Leaves will change colors and school is already back in session. Even though many people hate to see those warm months of frolicking by the pool go, for a great many Charlotteans, this time of year means at least one thing to look forward to – football!

Having been fully inducted into the society of female football fandom via my dad and his 1980s Dallas Cowboys, I am now a full-fledged gridiron girl. But even without paternal urging, one cannot help but be somewhat absorbed into the world of sports due to our city’s connection to it.

I was in the 8th grade when we got our first NBA franchise team. News stories and radio shows alike pondered what our new team’s name would be and what exactly the color teal looked like. Sure, the Hornets eventually departed for the Big Easy in 2002, but before we could say Hugo, Robert “Bobcat” Johnson had pounced on the opportunity to plant an orange-and-blue clad team and a new arena into the heart of Uptown. Sports fever swept the city all over again. But this time around, it was accompanied by an increased awareness of Charlotte as a viable sports town.

From the time the Hornets left town until the time the Bobcats will play their first game in the new arena, the Carolina Panthers will have gone to the Superbowl; the Charlotte Coliseum will have hosted a bracket of the NCAA tournament starring hometown favorites UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke; and the Independence High School football team would still be sitting firmly atop national rankings – just to name a few.

Given such exposure and progress, it is not surprising that the culture of sports has seeped into various businesses and industries in the Queen City. Many a Christmas gift was bought out of the all-Bobcats paraphernalia store in Southpark Mall last year. Several local hip hop artists have dedicated theme songs to both our professional teams. And it is hard to ignore the myriad of team-centered sports bars and restaurants sprinkled throughout the city; half the menu at Red Rocks Café has items named after local athletes.

One of the most creative additions to this end is the Baseline Barbershop on Independence Boulevard, which was built around Charlotte’s palpable sports atmosphere. It displays a replicated basketball court floor, NBA players’ jerseys and memorabilia along the walls, a pool table in the center, and an NBA Jamz arcade game in the corner. The owner, DeAnthony Hill, says he plans to expand on the concept and create a franchise of sports-themed barbershops—the next one to be based around the NFL. Hill said that he moved here because he felt Charlotte and its growing reputation as a sports town was perfect for achieving his business motto: “bridging hair care, sports, and the community.” And therein lies the beauty of sports for any town.

Besides being excellent for business, the sports industry, from professional to little league, has the ability to bond residents like few other disciplines. Blue collar workers and business suit types can sit next to each other in front of the big screens at Jillian’s and affably argue over which pro team will make it to the playoffs. Soccer moms, who may not otherwise have met, can root for each other’s kids from the bleachers, even if their kids play on separate teams. Many employees regularly trade in the cavalier interaction of work environments for the camaraderie of after-work recreational flag football. And church members united in faith also congregate to play softball games.

Most recently, Charlotte was named as a prospect to house the NASCAR Hall of Fame and won the coveted bid to host the CIAA basketball tournament in 2006. All of these developments make me gleefully wonder into which area of sports we will delve next. But for all the revenue and exposure that the sports industry brings in from the outside, the treasure that is an expanding Charlotte continues to be built from the inside out—on the welcoming spirit and vision of residents and leaders to make the sports industry yet another appealing aspect of our well-rounded city.

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