Sports in North Carolina
Athletes and sports teams from North Carolina compete at every level of competition in the United States including NASCAR, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, leagues operated by the United Soccer League organization, and MLL, and along with several colleges and universities in various conferences across an array of divisions. North Carolina is a state known for minor league sports. There are also a number of indoor football, indoor soccer, minor league basketball, and minor league ice hockey teams throughout the state.
Major league professional teams
|Charlotte Hornets||National Basketball Association||Charlotte||Spectrum Center||1988|
|Carolina Panthers||National Football League||Charlotte||Bank of America Stadium||1995|
|Carolina Hurricanes||National Hockey League||Raleigh||PNC Arena||1971|
|Major League Soccer||Charlotte||Bank of America Stadium||2021 (announced 2019)|
Though it has never been home to a Major League Baseball club, North Carolina is home to numerous minor league and collegiate summer league teams. Many colleges with athletic programs also field baseball teams.
- Founded as the AA Charlotte Orioles, which moved to Charlotte from Asheville. The Knights have been part of the AAA International League since 1993. From 1989 to 2013, the team played just across the state border in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
- The Durham Bulls trace their history to the 1902 Durham Tobacconists. Numerous league and name changes have occurred over the years; the current incarnation of the Bulls have been members of the AAA International League since 1998
- The current incarnation of the Mudcats trace their history to the Kinston Indians, who moved to Zebulon to assume the Mudcats name in 2012. The previous team known as the Mudcats are currently the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
- Created when the Carolina League expanded by two teams, replacing two teams that had been contracted by the California League.
- Created when the Carolina League expanded by two teams, replacing two teams that had been contracted by the California League. The team played its first two seasons of 2017 and 2018 in Buies Creek as the Buies Creek Astros.
- The Dash trace their history to the 1945 Winston-Salem Cardinals. The current team has been a member of Class A since 1961, and has had their current name since 2009.
- Prior to 1993, the Crawdads were located in Gastonia and played under a variety of nicknames
- Numerous teams in Asheville have been known as the Tourists; the previous team moved to Charlotte in 1976 and is now the Charlotte Knights. The current team replaced them in 1976.
- The Owls moved to Forest City in 2008. For the previous season, they played in Spartanburg, South Carolina as the Spartanburg Stingers.
In 2004, the NBA added the Charlotte Bobcats franchise, two years after the city lost the Hornets to New Orleans. The Charlotte team plays its home games at the Spectrum Center. The Bobcats assumed the Hornets nickname after the conclusion of the 2013–14 season; the New Orleans team had changed its name to the New Orleans Pelicans at the start of that season. By agreement between the NBA, Hornets, and Pelicans, the history and records of the 1988–2002 Hornets were assumed by the current Hornets franchise.
Prior to that, the Carolina Cougars of the American Basketball Association played in various North Carolina cites (playing in the ABA for five seasons, ending in the spring of 1974). Former Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown started his coaching career as head coach of the Cougars.
North Carolina's first professional basketball team was the American Basketball Association's Carolina Cougars. The Cougars played in North Carolina between 1969 and 1974 and split their games between the Greensboro Coliseum, the original Charlotte Coliseum and Raleigh's Dorton Arena.
Following the Cougars' move to St. Louis it would be fourteen years before professional basketball would return to the Old North State when Charlotte was awarded the NBA's 24th franchise, the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets played at the Charlotte Coliseum before moving to New Orleans following a bitter dispute between team ownership and the city over funding for a new arena. Two years after the Hornets decamped the Queen City was named as the home of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats who would play two seasons at the Coliseum before taking up residence at a new venue now known as Spectrum Center in Uptown. After the 2012–13 NBA season, New Orleans changed their franchise name to the New Orleans Pelicans. The franchise rights to the Hornets name and logo, plus the history of the original Charlotte Hornets, were given back to the city of Charlotte after the 2013–14 NBA season, at the same time the Charlotte Bobcats became the Charlotte Hornets. North Carolina Tar Heels legend Michael Jordan is the majority owner of the Hornets.
Despite having hosted three professional teams, North Carolina is best known as a hotbed of college basketball and is home to some of the most successful and most popular teams in the nation in both the men's and women's game.
North Carolina is home to what some consider the best rivalry in American sports, North Carolina vs. Duke. Chapel Hill (UNC) and Durham (Duke) are only 8 miles apart. This rivalry reaches its climax in basketball but often spills over to other sports. North Carolina State and Wake Forest are also considered major rivals of the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, for more on the four-way rivalry see Tobacco Road.
Other major college teams in the state include the Appalachian State Mountaineers, Charlotte 49ers, Davidson Wildcats, East Carolina Pirates, UNC Asheville Bulldogs, UNC Greensboro Spartans, and UNC Wilmington Seahawks.
Although North Carolina did not have a major-league professional sports franchise until the 1980s, the state has long been known as a hotbed of college basketball. Since the formation of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in 1953, the conference's North Carolina member schools have excelled in conference play. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Duke University, and North Carolina State University are all located within 25 miles (40 km) of one another, creating fierce rivalries. Wake Forest University, another ACC member, was located in the town of Wake Forest, also within the Raleigh–Durham area, until its 1956 move to Winston-Salem, less than 100 miles (160 km) to the west of these schools. UNC has won six NCAA national championships in men's basketball (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009, 2017) and one in women's basketball (1994). Duke has won five NCAA men's championships (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015), and NC State has won two (1974 and 1983). The Duke-UNC basketball rivalry has been called one of the best rivalries in sports and the two schools are often contenders for the national title. In addition to the ACC schools, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte went to the NCAA's Final Four in 1977, and Davidson College near Charlotte went to the NCAA's "Elite Eight" in 1968, 1969, and 2008.
North Carolina schools have also won multiple NCAA Division II basketball national championships. In 1967, Winston-Salem State University, led by future NBA star Earl Monroe and coached by the legendary Clarence "Big House" Gaines, was the first school in the state to win the Division II championship. In 1989, North Carolina Central University, which is now a Division I member, brought the title to the state a second time; winning the championship game by 27 points, which remains the largest margin of victory in its history. And in 2007, Barton College in Wilson returned the title to the state a third time.
Although basketball remains the dominant college sport in North Carolina, several schools have also enjoyed success in football and other sports. Wake Forest has also enjoyed substantial success in football; in 2006 they won the ACC football championship and participated in the 2007 Orange Bowl in Miami. This was the first major bowl berth for a North Carolina–based ACC team since Duke defeated Arkansas in the 1961 Cotton Bowl Classic. East Carolina University also enjoys much success in football. Located in Greenville the Pirates won both the 2008 and 2009 Conference USA Football Championship and have large passionate fan base. The East Carolina Pirates were the first back-to-back C-USA champions since divisional play was started in 2005. The Pirates played in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl for a second consecutive year on January 2, 2010. As part of the early-2010s NCAA conference realignment, East Carolina joined the American Athletic Conference in 2014. Elon University made 4 trips to the NAIA National Championship in football game winning back to back championships in 1980 and 1981, and has since moved to the NCAA's second-tier Division I FCS and the Colonial Athletic Association. Lenoir-Rhyne University won the 1960 NAIA National Championship in football, and were losing finalists in the NCAA Division II championship in 2013. The Charlotte 49ers, which are the sports teams affiliated with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, first fielded a football team and joined Division I FBS for Conference USA in 2015, participated in their first bowl game in 2019. Appalachian State University, Elon University, Western Carolina University and North Carolina A&T State University have all made trips to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision championship playoffs. Appalachian State has since moved to Division I FBS and the Sun Belt Conference. Western Carolina has made one trip to this championship game, while Appalachian State became the first school to win the championship three years in a row from 2005 to 2007.
North Carolina is home to the Carolina Panthers of the NFL who play their home games at the 74,500-seat Bank of America Stadium in Uptown Charlotte. The Panthers played their first season in 1995 at Memorial Stadium on the campus of Clemson University in neighboring South Carolina. On February 1, 2004 the Panthers played in Super Bowl XXXVIII. And on February 7, 2016 the Panthers played in Super Bowl 50
The Panthers were not North Carolina's first foray into professional football though, in the mid-1970s the Hornets of the World Football League called American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte home.
College football is also very popular in North Carolina with many colleges fielding teams. Only two states have more universities fielding teams at the NCAA's highest level, Division I FBS. North Carolina has seven FBS teams in all—the North Carolina Tar Heels, NC State Wolfpack, Duke Blue Devils, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, East Carolina Pirates, Appalachian State Mountaineers, and Charlotte 49ers. An additional seven field teams in Division I FCS, as well as many schools at the Division II and III levels. Before moving to FBS and the Sun Belt Conference in 2014, Appalachian State won three FCS national titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Charlotte is home to the postseason game currently known as the Belk Bowl.
History of North Carolina football
Despite having over ten million people, North Carolina's population being spread out over three major metropolitan areas precluded attracting any major professional sports league teams until 1974, when the New York Stars of the World Football League was relocated to Charlotte in the middle of the season and renamed the Charlotte Hornets (although the team was referred to as the Charlotte Stars for the first game in Charlotte). The National Football League (NFL) is represented by the Carolina Panthers, who began play in 1995, and call Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium home. North Carolina was home to the Charlotte Rage and the Carolina Cobras of the Arena Football League.
Pinehurst Resort, a world-famous golf resort, is located in the Sandhills and has played host to several major golf championships including the United States Open Championship, the PGA Championship, and the Ryder Cup Matches. In 2014 Pinehurst's most famous course, No. 2, made history by becoming the first course to host both the men's and women's U.S. Opens in the same year.
Several professional tours make stops in North Carolina every year, including the EGolf Professional Tour (formerly the Tarheel Tour) which is based in Charlotte. Annual PGA Tour stops in the state are the Quail Hollow Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, and the Greater Greensboro Open which has alternated between several course in Greensboro. The second-tier Web.com Tour visits Raleigh every year for the Carolina Classic.
In 1997, the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League (NHL) moved from Hartford, Connecticut (as the Hartford Whalers) to the state. The team played their games at the Greensboro Coliseum for their first two seasons in North Carolina before moving to their current home at the Entertainment and Sports Arena, later RBC Center and now PNC Arena, in Raleigh. The Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup, becoming the first major professional sports team from North Carolina to win their sport's highest championship.
In 2010, the Albany River Rats, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Hurricanes, relocated to Charlotte and became the Charlotte Checkers, assuming the name from the former ECHL team that had played in the city since 1995. The Charlotte Checkers play their home games at Bojangles' Coliseum in uptown Charlotte.
Winston-Salem became the home of a new Carolina Thunderbirds team in the Federal Prospects Hockey League in the 2017–18 season. The new team is named after the former Carolina Thunderbirds of the ECHL.
North Carolina is a center in American motorsports, with more than 80% of NASCAR racing teams and related industries located in the Piedmont region. Stock car racing is the official sport of the state. The largest race track in North Carolina is Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord where the Cup Series holds three major races each year.
A new drag strip, called Zmax Dragway, has been built on the same grounds as the speedway. It is currently the only drag strip in the U.S. to hold 4-wide drag racing events (as opposed to the traditional 2-wide drag races held at other tracks). The NHRA holds one to two national events there each year. The NASCAR Hall of Fame, located in Charlotte, opened on May 11, 2010. Many of NASCAR's most famous driver dynasties, the Pettys, Earnhardts, Allisons, Jarretts and Waltrips all live within an hour of Charlotte. NASCAR has held events at other race tracks in the state; most notably in Rockingham and North Wilkesboro.
In off-road motorcycle racing, the Grand National Cross Country series makes three stops in North Carolina, Morganton, Wilkesboro and Yadkinville; the only other state to host two GNCC events is Ohio. For sport amateurs, the state holds the State Games of North Carolina each year.
Richard Petty (Level Cross) and Dale Earnhardt (Kannapolis) were both born in North Carolina and are a great source of pride for Carolinians (both North and South) and Southerners in general. Both men won the NASCAR Cup Series a record 7 times.
Earnhardt's son Dale Jr. (also Kannapolis) was the face of NASCAR until his retirement from racing after the 2017 season, and is a sports hero in the Carolinas. Fellow current drivers Brian Vickers (Thomasville), and Scott Riggs (Durham) are also very popular with local fans.
Petty's father Lee (passed) and son Kyle (both Randleman) are also very popular. Kyle's son Adam (High Point) was killed when his car crashed during a practice at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire.
Outside of the Earnhardt and Petty clans North Carolina is home to many other NASCAR legends such as Junior Johnson (Wilkes County), Richard Childress (Winston-Salem), Ned and Dale Jarrett (both Newton), Andy Petree (Hickory), and Rick Hendrick (Warrenton).
Once a major part of the NASCAR circuit North Carolina now only has one track on the schedule, Charlotte. The 167,000-seat Charlotte track is arguably the heart and soul of NASCAR. The track, actually in Concord, hosts three Cup Series events every season, including the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (formally The Winston). Charlotte also hosts NASCAR's longest and most grueling race, the Coca-Cola 600, every May. The winner of the race earns tremendous respect among peers and fans due to the distance (the longest on the circuit) and the weather (North Carolina is known for extremely humid and hot summers). During race weeks Concord is said to balloon from its normal population of just under 56,000 to over 300,000.
Charlotte was awarded an expansion team in Major League Soccer in 2019, with plans to begin play in 2021. The state is also home to the North Carolina Courage of the National Women's Soccer League, who play in Cary. The owner of North Carolina FC, then a member of the men's Division II North American Soccer League but now in the USL Championship, bought the NWSL franchise rights of the Western New York Flash after the 2016 season. The NWSL team was then relocated from Rochester, New York to Cary, moving to NCFC's home of WakeMed Soccer Park.
North Carolina is also home to several lower-division professional teams. In addition to North Carolina FC (formerly the Carolina RailHawks), the Charlotte Independence play in the USL Championship. Asheville City SC play in the National Premier Soccer League. Additionally the Charlotte Eagles, the Carolina Dynamo of Greensboro, the Wilmington Hammerheads, and Tobacco Road FC of Durham play in USL League Two (formerly the Premier Development League, or PDL). The Eagles played in the USL Championship when it was called the USL Professional Division, but chose to relegate themselves to the PDL after the 2014 season, transferring their franchise rights to local interests that launched the Independence for the 2015 season. The Hammerheads relegated themselves from the USL to the PDL after the 2016 season. Charlotte and Greensboro both have women's teams in the USL W-League.
As with other sports, college soccer is important in North Carolina. The North Carolina Tar Heels have dominated women's college soccer on a national level, laying claim to the lion's share of all Division I national championships in the sport. The Heels have also been successful in men's soccer, winning national and conference champions. Duke and Wake Forest have also won national soccer championships. In 2011, UNC topped the Charlotte 49ers in an all-North Carolina affair to claim the men's national championship.
Charlotte has also hosted several CONCACAF Gold Cup matches at Bank of America Stadium.
Over the last two decades, North Carolina has become a rising power in the world of professional and amateur swimming. As with many other components of North Carolina's sport culture, this rise began on the college campuses of the Old North State. North Carolina State University, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill all field varsity swimming and diving teams at the Division I level. The men's program at NC State has enjoyed the most success, bringing home 25 Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, more than any other ACC team.
NC State's men have also boasted 75 All-Americans and 9 Olympians, including Cullen Jones, the first African-American world record holder in swimming and gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Games in the men's 4 × 100 meter freestyle relay. The women's team has won two ACC Championships and sent one athlete to the Olympics. Recently, Wolfpack Diver Kristen Davies won the NCAA title in platform diving. The Wolfpack program did not perform as well as in the past during the 2000s; however, the arrival of new head coach Braden Holloway has made an immediate impact on the program. In two seasons, Holloway has guided the Pack back to top 25 national rankings and relevance in the ACC. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, have won several conference titles as well. The University of North Carolina at Wilmington has won several Colonial Athletic Association titles.
In 2008, former Auburn University head swim coach David Marsh arrived to take the helm of USA Swimming's first center of excellence at SwimMAC Carolina (formerly Mecklenburg Aquatic Club) in Charlotte. Under his guidance, SwimMAC has been named USA Swimming's club of the year and is widely regarded as one of the best programs in the country. In 2012, SwimMAC's "Team Elite", personally coached by Marsh, produced five Olympians: Nick Thoman, Micah Lawrence, Kara Lynn Joyce, Davis Tarwater, and Cullen Jones. Many other Team Elite members have made the US National team. Winston-Salem native Kathleen Baker won silver in the Women's 100 meter backstroke and gold in the Women's 4 × 100 meter medley relay at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The Greensboro Coliseum Complex is scheduled to open the 78,000 square-foot Greensboro Aquatic Center in August 2011, with seating for 2,500 people. The arena will host the 2012 U.S. Masters Swimming Spring National Championship.
In recent years lacrosse has experienced a period of steady growth in North Carolina that has seen high schools in the three main metropolitan areas add the sport to their programs, this growth culminated in Charlotte being awarded a Major League Lacrosse expansion team named the Charlotte Hounds, the first professional outdoor lacrosse team in the South. An indoor lacrosse team, Charlotte Copperheads, played in the Professional Lacrosse League's only season in 2012. Duke and North Carolina field lacrosse teams for both sexes; both of the schools' men's teams have won national championships—North Carolina had been the westernmost school to win the men's national championship until Denver won the 2015 title—and the North Carolina women have also won national championships. The Tar Heels won both the men's and women's titles in 2016. Division I High Point and five schools in the Division II Conference Carolinas also play lacrosse.
Rugby union is seeing a major increase in popularity in North Carolina and the Southeastern United States, with the NCYRU's JV and Varsity all-star squads winning the regional southeast RAST (Rugby All Star Tournament) in 2014, with both teams undefeated in the tournament.
Softball is popular at the collegiate, scholastic, and recreational levels. North Carolina and NC State field women's gymnastics teams in the East Atlantic Gymnastics League, which both have each won four times. The state is home to nine NCAA Women's Field Hockey Championship titles with North Carolina winning six and Wake Forest winning three.
From the 1930s to the early 1990s, the Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling professional wrestling promotion, under the Crockett family, operated almost entirely out of Charlotte. Mid Atlantic was a long-time member of the National Wrestling Alliance and many of their top stars appeared on national television on NWA and later WCW events. Many retired or still-current wrestlers live in the Charlotte/Lake Norman area, including Ric Flair, his daughter Ashley (who performs as Charlotte Flair), Ricky Steamboat, Matt and Jeff Hardy, Stan Lane, Shannon Moore and R-Truth. Also, the chairman of WWE, Vince McMahon, was born in Pinehurst, attended East Carolina University, and was married in New Bern.
North Carolina has become a hotbed for professional bull riding (PBR). It is home to several professional stock contractors and bull owners. The Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association SEBRA headquarters are located in Archdale.
Volleyball is a very popular sport at the recreational level and most colleges field women's teams while a few, notably schools in the Conference Carolinas, field men's teams.
Ultimate in North Carolina is increasingly popular with youth, collegiate, club, and professional teams all competitive at the national level.
The North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame was established in February 1963, with the support of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, "to honor those persons who by excellence of their activities in or connected with the world of sports have brought recognition and esteem to themselves and to the State of North Carolina." The Hall of Fame inducted its first five members in December of that year.
List of NCAA Division I schools
- Appalachian State competes in the Southern Conference in wrestling and the Mid-American Conference in field hockey.
- Campbell competes in the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association in women's swimming and the Southern Conference in wrestling.
- Davidson football competes in the Pioneer Football League, and the school's wrestling program competes in the Southern Conference.
- Gardner–Webb is a member of the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association for men's and women's swimming.
- High Point plays men's lacrosse in the Southern Conference.
- NC State has affiliations outside the ACC in two non-ACC sports—women's gymnastics in the East Atlantic Gymnastics League and rifle in the Great America Rifle Conference.
- North Carolina competes in the East Atlantic Gymnastics League in women's gymnastics.
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