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There are lots of Sports to enjoy in the Charlotte Metro Area


Sports and Recreation  
Professional and amateur sports enthusiasts have a lot to cheer about in the Charlotte region. While many area newcomers carry other team allegiances, it doesn’t take long for Charlotte’s home teams to earn a place in their hearts as well.

NASCAR is the region’s oldest professional sport, as the city embraced stock car racing long before it became a national passion. More NASCAR teams are based in the Charlotte area than in any other city. Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the largest sports facility in the Southeast, hosts three major races - the UAW-GM 500 in October and the Nextel All-Star Challenge and Coca-Cola 600 in May - as well as numerous other events throughout the year.

While Charlotte has been home to NASCAR for decades, fans can now cheer local teams of the WNBA and NFL. The Charlotte Sting, an original WNBA team, arrived on the scene in 1997. The team, which plays at the Charlotte Coliseum, draws thousands of fans to its games each summer and consistently makes it to postseason play.

The Carolina Panthers’ 2003-2004 season was simply magical. Overcoming a 1-15 record just two years before, the Panthers rallied to make their first-ever Super Bowl appearance in Houston. Considered to be one of the most exciting games in Super Bowl history, the 2004 match-up with the New England Patriots included a launch by quarterback Jake Delhomme to Muhsin Muhammad for an 85-yard touchdown. The Cardiac Cats’ 2004-2005 season promises to be equally exciting as they play at the newly-named Bank of America Stadium.

Another thrilling aspect of sports in Charlotte is the new NBA expansion team, which is sure to draw basketball fans court side again. Under the ownership of Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson (who also owns the Sting), the team plays its first season in 2004 and will also be tenants of Charlotte’s new Uptown arena when it opens in 2005.

If hockey’s your game, check out the Charlotte Checkers. The Checkers play in the East Coast Hockey League and are affiliated with the NHL’s New York Rangers. The team began play in 1993 and calls Cricket Arena home. In 1996 the Checkers won the ECHL Championship and fans’ excitement about the team has remained high ever since.

If golf is more your speed, don’t miss the Wachovia Championship in May. Hosted by Quail Hollow Country Club, the tournament had a successful second year in 2004 as Joey Sindelar sank a 3-foot putt in a sudden-death playoff with Arron Oberholser to secure the $1 million prize. The tournament’s purse is one of the largest on tour, which brings many of the greats to Charlotte, including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

While Charlotte is not a Major League Baseball town, the Charlotte Knights, 1999 International League Champions, are a favorite of all who enjoy the national pastime. As the Chicago White Sox’s AAA affiliate, the Knights afford local residents the opportunity to see the sport’s rising stars. The team plays at Knights Castle in Fort Mill, just across the S.C. state line off I-77.

The region is also home to two single-A baseball clubs - the Hickory Crawdads, affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Kannapolis Intimidators, farm club for the Chicago White Sox. Both teams play in the South Atlantic League.

Additionally, the Charlotte Eagles, who play in the A-League of the United Soccer Leagues, and the Lady Eagles, who play in the south conference of the United Soccer League, will delight soccer fans.

Catching a Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball game is a must. Led by head coach Bobby Lutz, the 49ers consistently make postseason play, including the Conference USA quarterfinals in 2004 and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They battle nationally known league rivals such as Marquette, Cincinnati and Louisville.

Outdoor sports enthusiasts are excited about Charlotte Whitewater Park, a world-class park with controllable rapids that will be modeled after the 2000 Olympic site in Australia. The park will have rock climbing walls, mountain biking trails and flat water canoeing and kayaking in addition to the rapids. Located on the Catawba River near the interchange of I-85 and I-485, the Charlotte Whitewater Park is expected to open by 2007.

Whatever your passion, and whatever your budget, as a sports fan you’ll be satisfied in Charlotte.

CHARLOTTE OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

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