A week after investing $500,000 in literacy programs for low-income children, basketball legend Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets have quietly stepped up to help fill a cash shortage for the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in Charlotte.
The Hornets charitable foundation will give $10,000 toward the cost of Sunday’s closing ceremonies in uptown, including food and hospitality services for the hundreds of disabled athletes participating in the trials.
Team officials say they learned of the need from a June 22 Observer story that reported Partners for Parks was $25,000 shy of its $100,000 goal to cover the cost of hosting the trials, which are a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Doug Youngblood of Partners for Parks says the Hornets’ pledge is the largest in a series of last-minute gifts that erased the cash shortage just days prior to the arrival of 400 disabled athletes from across the nation. Winners in the team trials will compete in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in September.
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“The Hornets called us,” said Youngblood, admitting he’s impressed the team made the first move. “It’s not about marketing or anything. They are stepping up and helping us for all the right reasons.”
Had the campaign not met its goal, the nonprofit agency planned to take $25,000 from an unrestricted fund set up to preserve and promote local parks, which is the chief mission of Partners for Parks. The agency has already given $25,000 to help meet the goal.
Bernie Washington, executive director of the Charlotte Hornets Foundation, said the team felt it was a matter of civic responsibility.
“A sporting event such as the Paralympics is a big deal for the city and for the 400 athletes who are competing,” he said. “We have to support unique events like this in order to keep them coming to Charlotte...We couldn’t sit back and not help Partners for Parks reach its goal.”
Washington lauded other groups that have offered help, including Novant Health Care for providing sports medicine doctors and trainers at no cost. Bank of America and Duke Energy are also supplying large numbers of volunteers for the trials.
The Hornets’ $10,000 is helping with the most public part of the team trials, a closing ceremony Sunday at Romare Bearden Park that invites the public to join the athletes and their families as the names of the winners are announced. Paralympics officials suspect it could be an emotional affair, particularly for athletes taking part for the first time.
Roughly 1 in 4 of the athletes who come to Charlotte will be picked for Team USA. The Rio games, Sept. 7-18, will be the largest Paralympic competition in history, with 4,500 athletes from 176 countries.
This is not the first time the Hornets have quietly donated money for local events or individuals in need. Washington credits that below-the-radar approach to owner Michael Jordan and team President Fred Whitfield, who have taken a personal interest in local charity needs.
“Honestly, we weren’t looking for any recognition on this, we just wanted to help,” says Washington.
“What we’d really want is for Partners for Parks to be in a position where, four years from now, the community is selected to host this type of sporting event again.”