Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is doing his part to help the West Charlotte High School basketball team win a state championship.
Thursday afternoon, city councilman James “Smuggie” Mitchell told the team that Tepper had provided them with two charter buses to make the trip to Raleigh and Tepper will also cover the team’s hotel rooms Friday night.
The announcement drew applause from the Lion players.
Before the gift, West Charlotte had planned to drive up to Raleigh on Saturday morning. The Lions (25-6) will play Winterville’s South Central High in the N.C. 4A championship game at noon at N.C. State.
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“It’s just been overwhelming, with the alumni and now the owner of the Panthers helping us out,” West Charlotte coach Jacoby Davis said. “It’s just been a blessing. It caught me off guard. It’s not normal that an NFL team is paying for a high school basketball team like this. But it shows the community cares about what’s going on here.”
The Panthers did not immediately respond to a phone call Friday morning seeking comment.
Mitchell, who played point guard at West Charlotte from 1977-80, was instrumental in getting this done.
After West Charlotte beat Ardrey Kell in the state quarterfinals -- following controversy over a racist tweet from an Ardrey Kell player and the state association forcing West Charlotte to move the game -- Mitchell wanted do something to help his alma mater. West Charlotte was next going to play a N.C. 4A Western Regional final.
Mitchell reached out to several of the Lions alumni, hoping to raise enough funds to charter a bus to take the team to Hickory for the regional game. He also wanted to cover the teams’ meals. The alumni chipped in and covered those costs.
“After they won in Hickory,” Mitchell said, “I said, ‘This is destiny. We need to put them in a hotel room in Raleigh and get them up there early.’”
Mitchell sent another email to the alumni he had contacted before. This time, Walter Price got back to him quickly. Price is a West Charlotte graduate who is head of the Public Affairs Practice Group at the Moore & Van Allen law firm. Moore & Van Allen helped negotiate the sale of the Panthers to Tepper.
Price told Mitchell he had a sponsor, who wanted to remain anonymous, who would cover costs. Price asked Mitchell to get a cost breakdown. Shortly after Mitchell called back with the numbers, Price gave him some good news.
“Walter called back,” Mitchell said, “and he said, ‘I’ve got you a sponsor, and keep it low key,’ and it was David Tepper. Walter had mentioned all this to Mr. Tepper and (Tepper said), ‘I want to be a part of this. How can I help?’”
So Tepper is paying for the team’s bus and hotel rooms for Friday night. He’s also covering the West Charlotte cheerleaders to go up on another bus Saturday. Mitchell’s alumni group is covering the Lions’ meals Friday and Saturday.
And West Charlotte coach Jacoby Davis, overwhelmed by the support, said it means so much.
“We’re playing at 12 (Saturday),” Davis said, “so this gives us a chance to get up there (Friday) and practice and relax and get ready for the game (Saturday) morning, instead of having to get up (Saturday) and go up.
“Man, it’s just really a blessing.”