"It's such an amazing day for the kids and everyone else involved," says Panthers Director of Community Relations Riley Fields, who created the Sir Purr Bowl program. "If standing in the tunnel with dozens of 9 and 10-year-olds as they're getting ready to run out into a sold-out stadium doesn't give you goosebumps, you're not living."
The Sir Purr Bowl was started nine years ago as a partnership between the Carolina Panthers, Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, and Pop Warner Football, which is part of the non-profit organization founded in 1929 that today has over 240,000 youth participants.
"We just saw this as a great opportunity," Fields says of the exhibition game. "Each year a whole new group of kids gets to do something that they'll talk about for the rest of their lives."
The road leading to the Sir Purr Bowl gets underway when four randomly selected Jr. Pee Wee teams (the teams selected are: King's Mountain Mountaineers, Southwest Charlotte Cardinals, Havelock Rams and the Walkertown Wolfpack) play in a doubleheader at Memorial Stadium on September 11. The two winners then advance to the Sir Purr Bowl. Each team will have the opportunity to run five plays. During the last eight years, six touchdowns have been scored.
"If you're 10 years old and go 60 yards for a touchdown in front of 70,000 people...man, that's just plain cool!" Fields says, sounding a bit like an excited 10-year-old himself.
"It's an amazing dynamic," he continues. "I don't know if, at 9 and 10 years old, these kids have a full concept of the magnitude of what they're doing, but they're always super focused, and they go out there and execute. It's the parents who can get really psyched out about it. Every year you kind of wonder if the kids are going to freeze up or get stage fright, but they don't. They put their helmets on, buckle their chinstraps, put in their mouthpieces and go out and do it. Afterwards, they're like, "Do we get ice cream now?'"
The Carolina Panthers recently received the 2004 Pop Warner NFL Team of the Year award, recognizing the Panthers' commitment to promoting youth football through various events, contributions and programs, like the Outback Steakhouse Little Panthers Game of the Week. This is a seasonal television series in which the Panthers televise area Pop Warner football games. Other successful programs include the Outback Steakhouse Highlight Heroes segment, which features video highlights of regional Pop Warner games on the PantherVision screens at Panthers home games.