The NFL's Carolina Panthers return to Wofford College this weekend for the 18th season of summer training camp in Spartanburg.
The players report to camp today and the first practice is set for Saturday.
Opening day on Saturday will feature a free party — the Training Camp Kickoff Party — on Saturday afternoon and evening, along with the second annual Mayor's Ball Run hosted by Spartanburg Mayor Junie White and featuring representatives from all 13 of the county's municipalities.
The events are being hosted by Wofford, the City of Spartanburg, the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce and Team Spartanburg Sports Council.
The Training Camp Kickoff Party is set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Gibbs Stadium plaza on Wofford's campus, and will resume from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., following the Panthers' first practice in the stadium beginning at 6:30 p.m.
"The 'must do' for Panthers fans interested in attending training campis going to the team's Training Camp Kickoff Party on training camp's opening night (Saturday, July 28)," said Riley Fields, the Panthers director of community relations. "This free, family-style football bash features live entertainment, interactive activities for the entirefamily and the thrill of watching practice in the high-energy setting of Wofford's Gibbs Stadium."
Performances by the Panthers' TopCats cheerleaders, mascot Sir Purr and Purrcussion are scheduled, along with face painting, food, giveaways and more.
Admission is free.
Also scheduled is the second annual Mayor's Ball Run, hosted by the City of Spartanburg and Mayor Junie White, with participants from the 12 other municipalities in Spartanburg County.
The ball run begins at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, with White running the opening leg and representatives of the other towns running different legs of the route down Church Street to Evins Street to Gibbs Stadium. A student from the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind will finish up the run, taking the ball onto the stage, where White officially will proclaim Panthers Training Camp open in a ceremony set for 6 p.m.
"The NFL is the most successful and most popular professional sports league in the world and only 32 communities can claim to be the summer home for an NFL team," White said. "The city benefits greatly from the Panthers' presence here every July and August. The team brings people to the city who otherwise would never come here and it gives us a platform to share with a large number of visitors the great quality of life and opportunities found in the city.
During training camp, fans will get their first look of the 2012 NFL season at quarterback Cam Newton, returning for his second year with the Panthers, along with the other players — veterans and rookies alike.
"Anticipation for the upcoming Carolina Panthers season is at an all-time high," Fields said. "Training camp provides a great fan-friendly opportunity for fans to see their favorite players up close and in person as the season gets under way."
For players, it's all about work, though they will stop to sign autographs and greet fans who come out to watch.
In addition to the Back to Football Kickoff Party, this year's activities again will include T-shirt Tuesdays, Play 60 Family Fun Day, and the Panther Pals program.
On T-Shirt Tuesdays (each Tuesday during camp), players will toss T-shirts into the crowd along the autograph zone after practice.
Play 60 Family Fun Day will be held on Sunday, July 29, with appearances by the TopCats and Sir Purr, face painting and more activities for the whole family from 5-7 p.m. on the Intramural Fields at Wofford, near the Panthers' practice fields. The Play 60 Kids Combine promotes the NFL's Play 60 youth fitness initiative through a variety of fun, kid-friendly activity stations.
Panther Pals offers children between the ages of 6 and 13 an opportunity to watch part of practice from field level and then spend time with a player afterwards. Kids can register to be a Panther Pal at the welcome tent located outside the entrance to the practice fields. Five names will be chosen randomly about 30 minutes before the end of practice. The children selected will receive a Panther Pal T-shirt and will be escorted to a special area to watch the conclusion of practice. Panther Pals will be held at the public practices Monday through Friday of the first two weeks and Monday and Tuesday of the final week (July 30-Aug.3, Aug. 6-10, and Aug. 13-14).
The practice schedule and the schedule for these promotional events are subject to change — day, time or location — or cancellation without notice.
For a full training camp practice schedule, click here.