College athlete
Chris Leak

For a while there, it was beginning to seem like “Everybody Hates Chris” in Gator Nation. When you are part of a big-time college football program like the University of Florida, the expectations are usually unfairly high. Well, no one should’ve ever doubted Leak, the former Independence High star quarterback. As he said, he came to Florida to win a national championship. In his senior season, he delivered, leading the Gators to a 13-1 record capped with a 41-14 routing of Ohio State in the championship game (earning MVP honors). For the season, Leak passed for just under 3,000 yards and twenty-three touchdowns, despite sharing snaps with a rushing quarterback. He also managed to pick up a degree in sociology in December.

Freshman athlete
Stephen Curry

Curry is six-foot-one, but with his baby face he could pass for a high school freshman rather than a first-year college basketball player who broke five Davidson records. The Charlotte Christian grad led the Southern Conference in scoring (for freshmen nationally he was second only to Texas’s Kevin Durant), and was named the conference tournament MVP as well as conference freshman of the year. And when all eyes were on Davidson during its NCAA tournament game against Maryland, Curry lit up the ACC’s Terrapins with thirty points. And because he’s destined to make a name for himself, we waited till now to mention that he’s the son of Dell Curry.

Game from most recent season
Independence vs. Butler

The November 3rd football match-up between the Independence Patriots and Butler Bulldogs was destined to be an epic battle. It was the final game of the regular season. The Patriots were undefeated, of course, riding a 102-game win streak. The Bulldogs had dropped only one game, a one-point loss early in the season, and they were viewed as the team with the best chance of ending the Patriots’ run. The game was so anticipated that ESPNU wanted to broadcast it nationally. But state rules prohibit the live broadcast of regular season football games on a Friday night. All that meant was much fewer of us would get to see Independence pull off a 30-24 double-overtime victory.

One-act play
Razor Shines

When Shines was brought in before the start of the 2006 season, he told this magazine he would turn the Charlotte Knights around from their previous disappointing season. He did just that, leading the team to twenty-two more victories and a spot in the playoffs. And shortly after the season ended, Shines said see ya, accepting the position of third base coach with the Chicago White Sox. But hey, you can’t be mad at Shines for taking a job in the Major Leagues (especially since he didn’t spend much time there as a player).

Professional athlete
Julius Peppers

We all would like to forget about the Carolina Panthers’ 2006 season (the preseason Super Bowl favorite didn’t even make the playoffs), but one of the few memorable aspects was the play of Julius Peppers. The notoriously quiet defensive end continues to cause a ruckus on the field. He led the team with thirteen sacks (good enough for fifth in the NFL) and three forced fumbles. Play like that got him elected to his third straight Pro Bowl as a starter. But being the team player he is, Peppers would trade those three Pros for one Super.

Product pitchman
Jake Delhomme

We were actually considering Delhomme for Best Actor in the Arts section, except he’s not a very good actor. But that didn’t stop businesses from lining up to have him hawk their products. From Bojangles’ to Time Warner Cable to SunCom, the quarterback was eating chicken, trying to explain the benefits of bundling, and showing off his Razr. Since the average football player’s career only lasts four years, it looks like Delhomme is working on a backup plan. YouTube loves you, baby!

Reason for women to tackle each other
Carolina Queens

Odds are you didn’t know we had a professional women’s football team. But the Carolina Queens now have been hitting the gridiron for two years. This past season the team won its first game, en route to winning three out of eight. Their record may not be impressive, but their passion is. These ladies practice hard and hit even harder, and they often have the injuries to prove it (even owner/player Ebony Kimbrough nursed a broken wrist). But there’s a soft side to these athletes, too. They sponsor the Little Carolina Queens girls flag football team.

Place to play
Charlotte Sports Center

Rain or shine, hit this 75,000-square-foot indoor sports facility for soccer, inline hockey, basketball, volleyball, and flag football played on top-of-the-line surfaces. Join a league or just pay as you go with a low daily open play fee. The Sports Center also offers a 15,000-square-foot full-service fitness center and sports programs including camps, clinics, lessons, tournaments, and parties.
8626 Hankins Road

Stacey from the Lady Cats

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That’s what Stacey did. After not making the Charlotte Bobcats dance team during the team’s inaugural year, she worked on her two-steps and pop-locking and hit the floor running with the Lady Cats for the 2006-07 season. The highlight for her season was being voted by the fans to the first-ever NBA All-Star Dance Team. Even though the festivities were held in Las Vegas, famed choreographer Laurie Ann Gibson (Diddy, Usher, J. Lo) had them practicing twelve hours a day, which kept the ladies from hanging too much on the strip (but Stacey did manage to attend San Antonio Spur point guard and Eva Longoria fiancé Tony Parker’s celebrity party).

Tom Knotts

Independence High School football team. Nation-leading 108 consecutive wins. Seven straight 4AA state championships. Until someone beats Knotts’ team, there’s nothing left to say except this: Who’s going to play him in the movie?

Team spirit
Charlotte Eagles in Uganda

In January, the Charlotte Eagles made a trip to Gulu, Uganda. After visiting in 2005 and seeing the effects of civil war in the impoverished country, the soccer team kept its promise to return by touring the country for ten days. The Eagles organization also launched a campaign called “Gifts for Gulu,” which has raised more than $200,000 to build a community shelter for children.

Power of one
Emeka Okafor’s African initiative

The Charlotte Bobcats big man is making millions of dollars fulfilling his dream of playing in the NBA. Now he wants to save a million lives. In late November, Okafor launched his One Million African Lives Initiative in partnership with the Safe Blood for Africa Foundation. The goal is to save one million lives in sub-Sahara Africa during the next five years by reducing the number of HIV-infected blood transfusions.

Star power for a good cause
Athletes United for Youth

What do you get when you team Steve Smith, Dell Curry, and Jay Bilas? Aside from a group of talented ball players, you get three really nice guys who care a lot about the city they call home. Last year, Athletes United for Youth started after-school programs in three Charlotte-area communities—Grier Heights, Enderly Park, and Thomasboro—for youth ages seven to sixteen. The organization also sponsors the SOS (Support Our Students) Summer Camp program.

Professional athlete

Steve Smith

Amateur athlete
Chris Leak

Golf course
Ballantyne Resort

Sporting venue
Charlotte Bobcats Arena

Bowling alley
Park Road Lanes

Game from most recent season
Charlotte Bobcats 133, Los Angeles Lakers 126 in 3OT, December 29, 2006

Ballot Bloopers
Professional athlete

Panthers Kicker
How about leading scorer, original Panther, #4, or, better yet, John Kasay?

Comeback athlete
Chris Weinke
Oh, like how Coach Fox asked him to “come back” to the bench?

Categories: Feature, The Buzz