If it fits….wear it!

Published 10:19 am Tuesday, March 25, 2014

From left, Darquail Wilkins, Aaron Wells, Alexander Cooper, coach Robert Brown, Eric Smallwood, Jarvis Carr and Athletic Director Randy Whitaker open the boxes of Carolina Panthers practice pants. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

From left, Darquail Wilkins, Aaron Wells, Alexander Cooper, coach Robert Brown, Eric Smallwood, Jarvis Carr and Athletic Director Randy Whitaker open the boxes of Carolina Panthers practice pants. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

WINDSOR – Any other time you could call them ‘hand me downs’.

But Monday, when four boxes full of football uniform pants formerly belonging to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers were opened they were called ‘helping hands’.

The pants were part of 16 different uniform grants to high school football programs throughout the Carolinas done by the Panthers and the National Football League.

The uniform grants consist of actual game-worn and practice-worn uniforms, straight off the backs of the pros, cleaned and washed, of course.  This equipment grant is considered a great opportunity the NFL is giving high school football players to be a pro on and off the field.

“The Carolina Panthers are thrilled to provide this opportunity to schools in our region, especially when the need for resources is at a premium, but adequate funding may be a challenge,” said Peter Vacho, Carolina Panthers Military & Football Outreach Manager.  “Having the basic necessities such as practice gear can go a long way in helping school athletic departments make ends meet.”

And nowhere was that more appreciated than at Bertie.

“I got an e-mail back in January from (Bertie High athletic director Randy) coach Whitaker, and he sent it to all the football coaches, saying the Panthers were interested in giving pants and jerseys to different schools, and I told him I would do it,” said Bertie assistant football coach Robert Brown.

“Actually, it was pretty simple,” Brown added. “All I had to do was get from him (Whitaker) the total number of athletes and coaches that we had plus get our numbers for football.  After that, they just asked four basic questions: describe the state of the football program and any significant accomplishments in the last five years; how does our football team contribute to our school and to our community; how did we fund our program; and why were we applying for the uniform grant.”

What Brown wrote about the two-time state championship Falcon football program must have worked because Bertie was only one of 16 out of over 400 prep football programs in North and South Carolina to receive the benefit.

“I wrote about the demographics of the county and the economics of the county, how all of our gate money goes into the general fund and from there we have to battle it out with everybody else at school to get what they need,” Brown said.

“We’ve been struggling the past four or five years,” he added. “But in the past we’ve been a source of pride in the community because we do have those two state championships (1995: 38-34 over High Point Central and 2000: 32-15 over Guilford Co. Ragsdale). We work with the (Bertie) Middle School and the Little Leagues and we’ve had them come out and do clinics and practices and we’re here to help them some.”

Brown says he didn’t want to make the program sound so extremely dire, though he admitted when it came to uniform use, it was challenging.

“I went through the fact that with our uniforms right now our (junior varsity) jayvee wear the game pants on Thursday night and as soon as the game’s over we throw them in the washer and wash them and dry them so the varsity can use them on Friday night,” he says.

“I told them we could use whatever they could give us,” he said with a smile.

Brown said he and the Bertie staffers waited all through the winter and then a couple of days before spring – or maybe right after the NFL free-agent signing period – came word back from Charlotte.

“They called back and asked if sending us 130 pairs of pants would be okay,” Brown said, noting the surprise he felt at the time. “I told them that would be great!”

A week ago the four boxes arrived from the Queen City.  While Bertie’s color schemes are royal blue and sky-blue, the coaches say the color of teal on the players looks just fine.

“We’ll take whatever color we can get right now,” he quickly added. “We’re working right now to get funding for new uniforms for Friday nights.”

Brown says the practice pants will have to last for quite some time and quite a few classes of players.

“We’ve had the Carolina uniforms for a while now,” he remarked, smiling. “We’ve used them since before coach (Roy) Bond left, and as long as we take care of them they should be here for another eight, ten years or more.

“This will help a whole lot,” said athletic director Whitaker, referring to the school’s athletic budget. “We’re in the process of trying to get new game jerseys and pants right now and our practice apparel was getting in very poor condition so this will help us a lot and give the kids pride in having something of quality to practice in.”

After the boxes were opened by the coaches and several of the returning players there was a “fitting and modeling session”.  All of the players were in agreement that the “new” uniforms looked just fine.

“They’re comfortable because you can move around in them a lot better than our old ones,” said rising senior linebacker Eric Smallwood. “This is the real deal.”

“They feel so good, I’m ready to put them on and go out and practice right now,” he said, grinning.

The pants are gray woven cotton with twin black stripes running down the side legs.  The hip area is embossed with the Panther and NFL logos and the belts are teal.

The players were so impressed they want to wear them on game nights, but there is the question of that Panther head on the side.

“Could we change our mascot to a Panther,” one player inquired.

“I don’t think too many Bertie graduates would like that too much,” Whitaker deadpanned.

Come September it’ll be more than a new year for Bertie: new football coach, new school, and now, new practice gear.

“Let’s hope this all brings us some wins,” the players said.