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Wofford, Panthers celebrate 20 years of training camp

Sculpture of founder/owner Jerry Richardson dedicated on campus
Richardson statue
Jerry Richardson, center left, watches as the sculpture of his likeness is unveiled at Wofford.
2014-05-13

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Every summer since 1995, football fans from all over the country have staked their claim on a grassy hill above Wofford College’s football practice fields in the hopes of seeing stars.
 

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This summer, for the 20th time, those fans – many now very seasoned in their fandom and bringing along a new generation – will flock to the campus to see a well-seasoned football team, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. It’s a team that went from an expansion franchise awarded in 1993 and playing its first season in 1995 at Clemson’s Death Valley, to playing in Super Bowl XXXVIII in the 2003 campaign, to a two-decades-old team that boasts fans from around the world.

JJR SculptureWithout Jerry Richardson, a 1959 Wofford graduate and member of the board of trustees, none of it would be possible.

On Monday, May 12, the Wofford Board of Trustees honored Richardson, the only NFL owner to have played in the league, and recognized the upcoming 20th anniversary of summer training camp on the campus by dedicating a sculpture of Richardson. The sculpture, created by noted California artist Todd Andrews, stands on the patio of the Harley Room in the Richardson Physical Activities Building – depicting Richardson seeming to be ready to walk over to Gibbs Stadium to watch the Terriers – for which he also played – take on the next worthy opponent.

“The impact Jerry Richardson and the Carolina Panthers have had on the Wofford community and the Spartanburg community as a whole has been tremendous,” President Nayef H. Samhat says. “This is a long-standing partnership that has brought national recognition to our campus and Spartanburg, and has provided family entertainment to residents and visitors alike. Wofford is lucky to have such a generous family in the Richardsons, and we are proud to serve as the summer home for the Panthers.”

J. Harold Chandler (Class of 1971), chairman of the Wofford Board of Trustees, says, “Jerry Richardson made his presence known at Wofford as a star student and athlete who went on to play professional football for the Baltimore Colts, an incredible dream come true for most people. But, as time later revealed, Mr. Richardson’s dream was much bigger than even that, actually owning an NFL team, a feat he accomplished in 1993 as founder and owner of the Carolina Panthers. Yet, along this journey of unparalleled success, he proudly remained close to Wofford, nurturing our students, faculty and college leadership as a friend, trustee and mentor. Many of us who are close to Wofford and Mr. Richardson concluded many years ago that he is, simply put, one of a kind in our world. We truly love him. So, words cannot adequately express our appreciation for all that he has meant to us individually, to Wofford, to Spartanburg and beyond.”

The Panthers have trained at Wofford each summer since their 1995 inaugural season, and Wofford has been called one of the NFL’s finest training facilities, hosting the team in the 60,000-square-foot Richardson Building named for that family. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King has ranked the training camp among the top five in the league for fan friendliness. “I’ve always loved the feel of this place, in part because of the way the Panthers treat the fans who attend,” he wrote in 2012. “Ten to 12 players sign until the last autograph, and you can walk around the Wofford College campus and see players if you pick the right time …. a postcard of a place.”

Richard A. Johnson, director of athletics at Wofford, says, “Mr. Richardson and the Carolina Panthers have left an indelible mark on Wofford College and Spartanburg County. Over the past 20 years, the opportunity to host the Panthers training camp stimulated interest in the region and helped Wofford achieve excellence both academically and athletically. This wonderful sculpture is a testament to Mr. Richardson’s vision and resolute spirit. We continue to welcome the world to our campus and Spartanburg each summer because of him.”

Nearly 375,000 visitors have attended the free and open practices on campus during training camp since 1995, and in 2013 attendance reached an all-time high of more than 45,500 people.

Summer training camp is the closest fans are able to get to their on-field heroes, and hundreds line up each practice to snap photos and get autographs from players – rookies and veterans alike. Each year, a “welcome back” community party is hosted on campus, now in Gibbs Stadium, drawing tens of thousands of fans for opening weekend.

The Panthers and Wofford also host the Panthers Pals kids program each training camp in which youngsters have the chance to meet players one-on-one. The team also holds special promotions, such as T-shirt Tuesdays, movie nights and kids’ activities, throughout camp.

The decision for Wofford to host the summer training camp “ignited an immediate expansion of the campus, which included closing Evins Street and the construction of the Richardson Physical Activities Building, Roberts Fields and Gibbs Stadium,” the plaque dedicating the sculpture reads. “This successful development served as the catalyst for growth of the overall campus. The training camp partnership is now one of the longest in professional sports and has brought increased national visibility and exposure to the college. The NFL awarded the franchise to Owner/Founder and Wofford alumnus Jerry Richardson in 1993 after a nearly seven-year quest, and his resoluteness not only forever changed the Carolinas, but also Wofford College.”

Richardson entered Wofford as a student-athlete in 1954 and graduated in 1959. While at Wofford, he was selected to membership in the Blue Key National Honor Fraternity and National Society of Scabbard and Blade. He also was a member of the Kappa Alpha fraternity, chaired the college’s Interfraternity Council, and was selected to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities. He was an All-America football player, a member of Wofford’s Athletic Hall of Fame, one of only two football players to have his number retired, a member of the board of trustees for more than four decades, a wide receiver on the 1959 Baltimore Colts NFL Championship team, and the driving force behind the Carolina Panthers NFL franchise and its partnership with Wofford to serve as home for the team’s training camp beginning in 1995. Richardson also has the unique distinction of being the only person to be selected to the Business Halls of Fame and Sports Halls of Fame in both South Carolina and North Carolina.

Richardson many times has credited his Wofford College career with helping him succeed in business and the NFL. “I have said many times that the friendships I was fortunate to build at Wofford in the 1950s have led directly to whatever success I may have enjoyed,” he says. “Without Wofford’s influence on my life, I would not have been able to achieve what I have.”

He is married to his high school sweetheart Rosalind Sallenger Richardson, and they have two children, Mark Richardson and Ashley Richardson Allen; their son Jon Richardson died in 2013. Grandson Johnson Richardson played football for Wofford and graduated in 2010, and granddaughter Rose played volleyball for Wofford and graduated in 2013.