What do NASCAR legend Richard Petty and Carolina Panther Cam Newton have in common? The answer is the Ricky Proehl Celebrity Golf Classic, and a friendship with the man for whom the event is named.
Proehl, a former NFL great and now wide receiver coach for the Panthers, is also founder of the P.O.W.E.R. of Play Foundation, which serves at-risk youth through a highly structured, sports-based program at Proehlific Park in Greensboro.
"We've learned that by showing a child love, acceptance and respect, that we can, in turn, help change their lives," said Proehl. "The Foundation teaches the children in our programs through our core values of 'Play, Opportunity, Work, Excellence, and Respect.' We tell them, 'You can do whatever you want to do if you surround yourself with good people and make good choices.' "
No doubt there's a need for programs like those offered through P.O.W.E.R. of Play, especially for latch-key kids who need mentoring. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 77 percent of American youth are left at home every afternoon. And according to the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, most juvenile offenses occur around 3 p.m. on weekdays. Proehl's work with young people pays off. National statistics cited on his foundation's website assert that kids who are mentored are 46 percent less likely to start using illegal drugs and 52 percent less likely to skip school.
In order to sustain his Foundation, Proehl hosts the annual Celebrity Golf Classic, this year taking place Friday, June 5, at Greensboro Country Club. Newton and Petty will attend the Pairings Party the night before at Greensboro's Proximity Hotel, while Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and dozens of NFL stars, including Jerricho Cotchery, will play in the Golf Classic. Hutchinson Family office, a full service wealth management firm, is this year's presenting sponsor of the Classic.
"We've been so touched by the work Ricky has done with young people over the past few years, that we wanted to be involved in this special fund raising event," said Steve Hutchinson, founder and CEO.
This is not the first time Richard Petty has teamed with Proehl. Last fall, NASCAR's winningest driver and seven-time national champion presented the P.O.W.E.R. of Play Foundation with a generous contribution, courtesy of the Petty Family Foundation, which supports a number of charities, chief among them, Victory Junction Camp. During the holidays, Petty, Proehl and Hutchinson distributed food, clothing and toys to families in need.
Meanwhile, this will be Cam Newton's first time teaming up with Petty to attend the Pairings Party, which also raises money for the P.O.W.E.R. of Play Foundation. The two-time Pro Bowler from Atlanta joined the Panthers in 2011 after winning a national championship at Auburn. He was named NFL rookie of the year, and passed for 400 yards in his very first game.
"I was always a fan of Coach Proehl when he was playing in the NFL, and I really admire what he's doing to help kids with his Foundation," said Newton.
At last year's holiday drive, I reminded Richard Petty that not everyone has fully recovered from the recession, and that money is still tight, even for those of us with a job. His response was inspirational and direct. "Most of us may not be as well off as we used to be, but we're so much better off than the majority of people, so why not give back a little?"
Tickets to the Pairing Party are still available at $100 (powerofplayfoundation.org).
Jim Longworth is a regular contributor to YES! Weekly, Creative Loafing's sister publication in Greensboro.