Panthers, NFL to give West Charlotte an artificial turf field

An NFL “grassroots” program will sprout an artificial turf field at West Charlotte High School’s football stadium, thanks to a $200,000 grant announced Tuesday by the Carolina Panthers and the league.

The donation will give West Charlotte, a Project LIFT school that is converting community support into an all-out effort to improve student academic performance, a big dose of self-confidence, officials say.

“We need momentum, and this is momentum,” said Denise Watts, executive director of Project LIFT, which includes West Charlotte High and eight westside feeder schools. “This will give our kids something they can be proud of.”

The gift comes through the Panthers and the NFL Foundation Grassroots Program, which is distributing $2.5 million across the nation this year to refurbish athletic fields.

“We think this project will help transform the community,” said Riley Fields, the Panthers’ director of community relations.

The Panthers and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said the donation also benefits Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, as the improved stadium also will be used by recreational-level athletic programs in northwest Charlotte.

“It’s really a gift for the entire community,” West Charlotte High Principal John Wall said.

Wall and Watts said that while the artificial turf field won’t have a direct impact on test scores or graduation rates, it has a positive effect.

“It’s part of creating a more positive atmosphere overall,” Watts said. “When West Charlotte teams are entertaining schools with excellent facilities, they won’t have to be embarrassed. It helps build pride in themselves and the school.”

Wall added, “It sends a message that the community really cares.”

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are gradually converting stadiums from grass to artificial turf, to cut maintenance costs and increase use of the fields by community groups. Seven other high schools – Ardrey Kell, Garinger, Hough, Mallard Creek, Olympic, Rocky River and West Mecklenburg – have turf fields.

Watts said Tuesday’s announcement is another sign of good things at West Charlotte. She said the school’s graduation rate rose from 71 percent in 2013 to 78 percent last June. But she noted that’s still the lowest figure among the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

“This is a work in progress,” she said. “But what happened today is a sign of the progress.”

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