Carolina Panthers enthusiasm on the rise in York County

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comNovember 18, 2013 

A Lock-It Self Storage in Fort Mill lets customers pick creative Panthers messages for its sign. Owner Mitch Clark is a longtime Panthers fan.

It’s been a few years since Carolina Panthers fans have had much to get them excited. The team hasn’t had a winning record since 2008 – until recently, that is. And people across York County say the level of enthusiasm about the team is definitely up from previous years.

At Academy Sports on Dave Lyle Boulevard, Operations Manager Shandrell Lewis said they’re having a hard time keeping Panthers merchandise in stock.

“We’ve seen a big boost in sales, especially with the win against the 49ers,” she said.

The men’s Cam Newton jersey is their best seller, she said.

Longtime Panthers fan and Clover resident Tim Harvell attributes a lot of the Panther’s newfound popularity to Newton, who was arguably one of the most famous college athletes of the last decade.

“Everyone jumps on the bandwagon when the Panthers do good,” said Harvell, who’s had a personal seat license for the last three years.

Some area sports establishments have reported a boost in excitement about the Panthers. At Towne Tavern in Fort Mill, the growing number of Panthers fans has been impressive, said manager Xack Atkinson.

“I thought they didn’t have a fan base at all,” he said. “I thought I was the only one.”

Lots of people have allegiances to other teams, said Atkinson, especially the large numbers in the Charlotte suburbs who aren’t native to the area. He said the Panthers may have a lot more fans who don’t admit it.

“People may support them, but they don’t tell anybody,” he said. “They’re afraid of making their friends mad.”

One local fan is sharing his Panthers enthusiasm with everyone he can, through the sign outside his business.

Mitch Clark, one of the owners of A-Lock-It self storage in Fort Mill and Pineville started putting pro-Panthers messages on the board outside his businesses years ago. It soon became a customer endeavor, with plenty of people stopping in to suggest their own messages.

“Anybody that comes up with the best idea gets one on there,” Clark said.

This week, the board says, “Patriots beware, the Panthers are incognito no more,” a reference to Miami Dolphins player Richie Incognito who was recently suspended after bullying allegations emerged.

This year, coming up with the signs has been a lot of fun because of their winning record. When they’re losing, he said, it’s sometimes difficult to keep positive messages up on the board, but they do their best.

“We play New Orleans and we play Tampa Bay and we play Atlanta. Every year those are the hardest ones to come up with,” he said.

Clark, like Harvell, tries to attend Panthers games whenever he can, and he said in recent seasons, the Bank of America stadium has felt like an away game, not a home game, because so many Panthers fans sell their tickets. This year, both men report, there’s a lot more Panthers enthusiasm to be found on game day.

“As they start winning, you see more and more Panthers fans and they definitely ride the wave of emotions,” Clark said. “Everybody likes to win.”

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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