North Carolina had a state bird, the cardinal; a state dog, the plott hound; and 36 other state symbols, but it wasn't until last week that the state adopted its sport.
As Gov. Bev Perdue signed the law honoring stock car racing as the state's official sport at Charlotte Motor Speedway June 21, guests ranged from NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Ned Jarrett to members of the General Assembly.
But the event's most important attendees were a group of Mooresville students and teachers, who not only came up with the idea for the law in 2008 but who also lobbied for the bill's passage for the past 14 months.
"This law started with you," Perdue told the group from Lake Norman Elementary and Mount Mourne IB School.
"You're looking at the best politicians in North Carolina. They made this a reality for the people of this state."
Fourth-grade teacher Nettie Gambill said watching her students' idea become law was a dream come true.
"These children - these 13 crewmembers, as we call them - have really gone out of their way to work hard and make this come to fruition," she said. "It's been a learning process, but also these children have grown into great leaders too."
The students spent countless hours learning about the state's legislative process and the history of stock car racing, as well as its connection to North Carolina, before coming up with language for the bill and making several trips to Raleigh to speak to politicians about the idea.
"It's been cool to go through the whole process," said Mount Mourne rising seventh-grader Tanner Orr. "It's longer than people make it out to be, I thought it was going to be in-and-out in one trip, but it was all worth it."
The 12-year-old added it was hard to put into words what he felt as he and his fellow students stood behind Perdue as she signed a law they had helped craft.
"It's awesome that we got to see the governor sign it, that we're going to be part of history now," Tanner said.
Gambill explained one of her classes a decade ago came up with the idea to try to get a new state symbol recognized. The class wanted to make the apple the state fruit, but before they had the chance to pursue it, the General Assembly went with the scuppernong grape instead.
Gambill decided to give it another try and brainstormed ideas with her class while discussing state symbols a few years back. Discovering that North Carolina wasn't one of the nine states with an official sport and growing up in "Race City USA," the children decided to get stock car racing the recognition they thought it deserved.
Gambill admitted her students had to convince many that racing was the right sport to recognize.
"A lot of people like to say that basketball should be our state sport, but we like to think that North Carolina only perfected it, not originated it," she said.
Perdue thanked the students for pointing out to state leaders what she thought was an obvious choice for state sport.
"How come it takes really bright kids to tell us grownups what we ought to be doing?" she said. "They pointed out something that should've been right under our noses."
In addition to getting its start in the state's foothill and mountains during prohibition, the governor explained that stock car racing has created 20,000 jobs while injecting $6 billion a year into the North Carolina economy.
Perdue said she will send pens used for official state business to each of the students and teachers who were involved in coming up with the state sport idea in the coming weeks to recognize their effort.
She wasn't the only one to thank the group. Allison, a Mooresville resident who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in May, said he was grateful for all the work the children put into recognizing his sport.
"I think it's really special," said Allison. "I'm really honored."
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