Sports in Charlotte, North Carolina

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Sports in Charlotte, North Carolina have a long and varied history. The city is home to teams at nearly every level of American sports including the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League and Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association. In addition to serving as the home base for several teams the city plays host to many events of national and international importance including the longest race in NASCAR, the annual Coca-Cola 600 and golf's Wells Fargo Championship.

Teams and history[edit]

Professional and non-collegiate amateur[edit]

Club League Venue Location Founded
Football Panthers, CarolinaCarolina Panthers NFL Bank of America Stadium Uptown Charlotte 1995
Basketball Hornets, CharlotteCharlotte Hornets NBA Spectrum Center Uptown Charlotte 1988
Baseball Knights, CharlotteCharlotte Knights IL BB&T Ballpark Uptown Charlotte 1976
Ice Hockey Checkers, CharlotteCharlotte Checkers AHL Bojangles' Coliseum Coliseum Drive, Charlotte 2010
Field Lacrosse Hounds, CharlotteCharlotte Hounds MLL American Legion Memorial Stadium Elizabeth, Charlotte 2011
Soccer Independence, CharlotteCharlotte Independence USL Mecklenburg County Sportsplex Matthews 2014
Soccer Eagles, CharlotteCharlotte Eagles PDL Restart Field Stonehaven, Charlotte 1993
Rugby Union Rugby Club, CharlotteCharlotte Rugby Club MARFU Skillbeck Athletic Grounds Coulwood, Charlotte 1971
Roller Derby Roller Girls, CharlotteCharlotte Roller Girls WFTDA Grady Cole Center Elizabeth, Charlotte 2006
Football Queens, CarolinaCarolina Queens IWFL West Mecklenburg Stadium Pawtuckett, Charlotte 2005
Basketball Invasion, CharlotteCharlotte Invasion WBCBL Belk SAC Gym South Charlotte 2014

Baseball has been played at a high level in Charlotte since at least 1892 when the Charlotte Hornets[1] debuted in a competition known as the South Atlantic League, later a team called the Charlotte Presbyterians[2] took part in the North Carolina Association before reverting to the Hornets name and bouncing around a number of leagues until 1972. In 1976 following a short spell with no professional baseball in the city wrestling promoter Jim Crockett, Jr. brought the Charlotte O's to the Charlotte, the O's would later become the modern day Charlotte Knights.[3]


Between 1969 and 1974 Greensboro's American Basketball Association team, the Carolina Cougars played a number of home games each season at the original Charlotte Coliseum, the team would also play games in Raleigh and Winston-Salem.[4] It would be until 1988 that Charlotte would be awarded its first major league team in the form of the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA. The team played out of the 24,000-seat Charlotte Coliseum, known affectionately as "The Hive", and would lead the league in attendance for several seasons before an acrimonious fall out with owner George Shinn triggered a number of events which led to the team relocating to New Orleans in 2002. However, it didn't take long for the Queen City to return to the NBA when a group led by businessman Bob Johnson, the founder of BET, was awarded a franchise which would come to be known as the Charlotte Bobcats. In 2013, eleven years after the Hornets left the city, the Bobcats, now playing at the Spectrum Center, announced the team would assume the city's beloved nickname following the rebranding of the New Orleans team as the Pelicans. Charlotte was also home to a WNBA team, the Charlotte Sting from 1988 until they folded in 2006.

Bank of America Stadium, home of the Panthers.

The history of professional football in Charlotte began in 1967, when the American Football League staged a preseason exhibition game between the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets. Pro football returned under bizarre circumstances following the relocation of a World Football League team, the Charlotte Hornets, to the city from New York in the middle of the 1974 season. Disillusioned with life at the dilapidated Downing Stadium and saddled with heavy debt from financing renovations to the facility the ownership of the New York Stars sold the franchise to a Charlotte-based group. The Hornets played out of American Legion Memorial Stadium and were a moderate success on the field and in the stands but struggled financially and eventually shuttered operations after an abbreviated 1975 season when the entire league shut down. Professional football would return to Charlotte in 1992 in the form of the Charlotte Rage, an Arena Football League team that played out of the Coliseum. The Rage would qualify for the playoffs twice (in 1993 & 1994) before closing in 1996. The Arena League would return to Charlotte in 2003 when the Carolina Cobras relocated from Raleigh. The Cobras short tenure in Charlotte is memorable for appearances by future Pro Bowler Rob Bironas and future WWE wrestler Thaddeus Bullard, better known as Titus O'Neil.

In 1987 businessman Jerry Richardson announced his intentions to bring the National Football League to the Carolinas with a bid centered in Charlotte. The Richardson-lead group staged several NFL exhibitions around the Carolinas and in 1991 formally filed an expansion bid which was unanimously approved by the NFL's 28 owners making the Carolina Panthers the 29th NFL franchise. The Panthers spent the 1995 season south of the border at Clemson's Memorial Stadium while Bank of America Stadium in Uptown was being prepared for the team's 1996 season. To date the Panthers have appeared in two Super Bowls, Super Bowl XXXVIII and Super Bowl 50, and lay claim to four conference championships and six division championships.

Since 2005 Charlotte has been home to a women's football team called the Carolina Queens. The Queens play home games at Hopewell High's stadium in Huntersville.

Despite being a warm-weather, Southern city, Charlotte has a long ice hockey history that dates back to 1956 when the original Charlotte Checkers were formed and began play in the Eastern Hockey League.[5] The Checkers would play in the EHL for several seasons before moving to the more geographically-friendly Southern Hockey League[6] where the team would win two championships before folding with the rest of the league in 1977. It would be 17-years before the sport would return to the city at the professional level with the formation of an ECHL team named in honor of the original Charlotte hockey team. The second version of the Checkers would take up residence at the original Coliseum (then known as Independence Arena) and would quickly become a success by winning the Kelly Cup in 1996. The team moved to the Spectrum Center in 2005. In 2010 the Checkers would move to the American Hockey League and become the top affiliate of Raleigh's National Hockey League team, the Carolina Hurricanes. In 2015 the Checkers moved back to the Coliseum.

Throughout the years Charlotte has been home to a number of soccer teams, and is currently home of the Charlotte Eagles of the Premier Development League, their sister team, the Charlotte Lady Eagles of the USL W-League, and the Charlotte Independence of the United Soccer League. Both Eagles teams have won a number of championships at the lower-levels of American soccer. In 1981 Charlotte's American Soccer League team, the Carolina Lightnin', won the league championship before a sold-out Memorial Stadium when they defeated New York United 2–1.[7]

Lacrosse is a sport with a relatively short history in Charlotte but one that is experiencing growth following the formation of two professional lacrosse teams. The Charlotte Hounds are a field lacrosse team that plays in Major League Lacrosse, the top level of the sport in the United States, out of Memorial Stadium. The Hounds began play in 2012 and were founded by Jim McPhilliamy. Charlotte's other lacrosse team, the Charlotte Copperheads, plays the indoor version of the game, box lacrosse, in the Professional Lacrosse League.

Center Court at the Jeff Adams Tennis Center.

Tennis is played at several venues throughout Charlotte by both individuals and clubs at the recreational and competitive levels. Charlotte's most prominent tennis venue is the 13-court Jeff Adams Tennis Center at Renaissance Park.

Charlotte is home to one of North Carolina's oldest rugby union organizations, the Charlotte Rugby Club, or the Olde Originals. CRC was founded in 1971 by former college rugby players and is based at the Skillbeck Athletic Grounds in Coulwood, a neighborhood in the northwestern portion of the city.

The Charlotte Roller Girls organization is a flat-track roller derby club that was founded by several local women in 2006 and plays out of the Grady Cole Center.

Collegiate[edit]

Team Division Primary Conference Location Varsity Teams
Charlotte 49ers NCAA I Conference USA University City, Charlotte 17
Davidson Wildcats NCAA I Atlantic 10 Davidson, North Carolina 19
JCSU Golden Bulls NCAA II CIAA Biddleville, Charlotte 13
Queens Royals NCAA II South Atlantic Conference Myers Park, Charlotte 19
Johnson & Wales Wildcats USCAA Independent Uptown Charlotte 5
Dale F. Halton Arena, UNC Charlotte.

Mecklenburg is home to five collegiate athletic programs and is where the offices of the Big South Conference are based.

Davidson College, founded in 1837 and based in the eponymous north Mecklenburg town, is the oldest of these institutions and is the home of the Wildcats. A full NCAA Division I program, Davidson is a member of the [[Atlantic 10 Conference] ]and fields 19 varsity teams.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte started life in 1946 as the Charlotte Center of the University of North Carolina and is the home of 17 varsity teams known as the Charlotte 49ers. Like Davidson, Charlotte has full Division I status and is a member of Conference USA. UNC Charlotte is one of the largest public universities in the state of North Carolina.

Charlotte and Davidson compete in men's basketball for the Hornets' Nest Trophy.

Queens University of Charlotte is a private, Presbyterian school based in the Charlotte neighborhood of Myers Park. Queens began life in 1857 as the Charlotte Female Institute. In the 1980s Queens began admitting male students. The Queens Royals play in the South Atlantic Conference at the NCAA Division II level.

Johnson C. Smith University is an HBCU located near Uptown in Biddleville. JCSU was founded in 1867 and the Golden Bulls play at Division II level as a member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

A newcomer, the Charlotte campus of Johnson & Wales University was established in 2004. The JWU Wildcats play men's basketball and women's volleyball as independent members of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.

The CIAA Basketball Tournament is held in Charlotte every year. The tournament attracts over 100,000 fans and spectators and has a $55 million economic impact on the city.[8]

High schools[edit]

Charlotte-Mecklenburg's high school teams are aligned into the following conferences as assigned by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

Mecka 4A So. Meck 8 4A Southwestern 4A
Hopewell Titans Ardrey Kell Knights Butler Bulldogs
Hough Huskies Berry Cardinals East Meck Eagles
Kannapolis Wonders Charlotte Catholic Cougars Garinger Wildcats
Mallard Creek Mavericks Harding Rams Independence Patriots
North Meck Vikings Olympic Trojans Myers Park Mustangs
Jay M. Robinson Bulldogs Providence Panthers Porter Ridge Pirates
West Charlotte Lions South Meck Sabres Rocky River Ravens
Vance Cougars West Meck Hawks

Mecklenburg County has long been a superpower in North Carolina high school sports dating back to Garinger's (then known as Charlotte High School) multiple football championships in the 1910s. Garinger in its historic and present day forms would go on to become the earliest of the Charlotte powers in the first half of the 20th century before seeing its fortunes fade in the latter half. Garinger most recently claimed a state championship with its 1989 boys basketball team.

The late 20th and early 21st centuries were marked by the rise of Butler, Independence, and West Charlotte as state football powers. West Charlotte's Lions dominated the state football scene between the mid-80s and 90s, a period during which they won five championships in a ten-year span. The late-90s saw Independence begin a 107-game winning streak that included seven consecutive state championships under coach Tom Knotts. Independence's streak would last until 2007 when Cincinnati's Elder High School defeated the Patriots 41–34 at Nippert Stadium. Butler and Mallard Creek have recently made appearances in state championship games with Butler claiming three titles.

Garinger and West Charlotte each have five state basketball championships while South Meck has four.

Motorsports[edit]

Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Along with Indianapolis, Charlotte is considered one of the hubs of American motorsports with most NASCAR teams and several open wheel and sports car teams calling Charlotte and the area surrounding it home.

Uptown Charlotte is home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the now defunct Charlotte Speedway was the site of the first NASCAR Strictly Stock (a precursor to the modern Sprint Cup Series) race on June 19, 1949, Bob Flock won the pole and Jim Roper was declared the winner after Glenn Dunaway's car failed post-race inspection.

Since then a number of Charlotte-area venues have played host to NASCAR's top series including Metrolina Speedway on the Metrolina Fairgrounds in Charlotte, and Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord. CMS hosts three Sprint Cup Series events per year including the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and has been hosting NASCAR's premier series since 1960.

Events[edit]

U.S. National Whitewater Center.

As with all of North Carolina, Charlotte is a hotbed of golf and hosts annual events across several tours. The PGA Tour stops in Charlotte once a year for the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club and in 2017 the club will host the 99th PGA Championship. River Run Country Club in Davidson plays host the Web.com Tour's Chiquita Classic and Raintree Country Club is the home of the Symetra Classic, an event on the LPGA's developmental Symetra Tour.

The U.S. National Whitewater Center is an official United States Olympic Committee training site for whitewater slalom racing and has hosted Olympic team qualifying events.

The Belk Bowl is played every December in Charlotte and features teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference.

Brooklandwood in the nearby Union County town of Mineral Springs is the site of the Queens Cup Steeplechase, one of steeplechase horse racing's major annual events. The program consists of several races, and is held the last Saturday of April and also features a Jack Russell Terrier judging contest.

Several cycling events take place in Charlotte including the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium and 24-Hours of Booty.

Professional Wrestling[edit]

Ric Flair is a 26-time World Heavyweight Champion.

Charlotte has a long, rich history as a home of professional wrestling, an art combining theatrics with athletic feats. WWE Hall of Famer and multiple-time World Heavyweight Champion "Nature Boy" Ric Flair calls Charlotte home and is an icon in the city. Flair's daughter, Charlotte is currently a wrestler with WWE.

Jim Crockett Promotions ran events out of Charlotte for decades beginning in the 1930s and running until the 1970s. Through Crockett Promotions Charlotteans were introduced to stars such as Flair, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, the Andersons, and the Junkyard Dog, many of whom would settle in the city and grow to consider it their home.

Charlotte would continue to be a citadel for Crockett's successor, World Championship Wrestling.

In the 21st century Charlotte has become a regular stop for World Wrestling Entertainment, TNA Wrestling, and Ring of Honor.

Current WWE wrestler Ron Killings is from Charlotte.

Venues[edit]

Present[edit]

Venue Location Capacity Owner Environment Year built
Bank of America Stadium Uptown Charlotte 73,778 Carolina Panthers Open air, natural grass 1996
Spectrum Center Uptown Charlotte 20,200 City of Charlotte Indoor arena 2005
American Legion Memorial Stadium Elizabeth, Charlotte 16,000 Mecklenburg Parks & Rec. Open air, natural grass 1936
Bojangles' Coliseum Coliseum Drive, Charlotte 9,605 City of Charlotte Indoor arena 1955
Jerry Richardson Stadium University City, Charlotte 15,314 UNC Charlotte Open air, artificial turf 2012
Charlotte Motor Speedway Concord, North Carolina 140,000+ Speedway Motorsports Open air, asphalt 1960
Dale F. Halton Arena University City, Charlotte 9,105 UNC Charlotte Indoor arena 1996
John M. Belk Arena Davidson, North Carolina 5,223 Davidson College Indoor arena 1989
Transamerica Field University City, Charlotte 4,000 UNC Charlotte Open air, natural grass 1996
Richardson Stadium Davidson, North Carolina 6,000 Davidson College Open air, artificial turf 1923
Irwin Belk Complex Biddleville, Charlotte 4,500 Johnson C. Smith University Open air, natural grass 2003
Winthrop Coliseum Rock Hill, South Carolina 6,100 Winthrop University Indoor arena 1982
Concord Speedway Midland, North Carolina 8,000 Concord Speedway Open air, asphalt 1956?
BB&T Ballpark Uptown Charlotte 10,000 Charlotte Knights Open air, natural grass 2014
Mecklenburg County Sportsplex Matthews, North Carolina 3,000 Mecklenburg County
Town of Matthews
Open air, natural grass 2016

Defunct[edit]

Venue Location Capacity Owner Environment Closed Reason
Knights Stadium Fort Mill, South Carolina 10,002 York County, South Carolina Open air, natural grass 2015 Replaced
Charlotte Coliseum Eagle Lake, Charlotte 24,000 City of Charlotte Indoor arena 2005 Replaced
Jim Crockett Park Dilworth, Charlotte 5,000 Crockett Family Open air, natural grass 1985 Arson
Metrolina Speedway Metrolina Fairgrounds, Charlotte 10,000 Metrolina Fair Open air, dirt 1990s Abandoned
Belk Gymnasium University City, Charlotte 3,000 UNC Charlotte Indoor arena 1996 Converted
Charlotte Speedway Charlotte  ?  ? Open air, dirt 1957 Closed

References[edit]